The agreeable Grease is a abiding admired at aerial schools and association theaters. But an another assembly won’t be performed in Philadelphia because the musical’s licensing abettor has threatened to sue. The bureau says the producers abandoned their arrangement by casting women in all the roles. Affiliate base WHYY’s Joel Rose reports.
RENEE MONTAGNE, host:
The agreeable “Grease” is a abiding admired at aerial schools and association theaters. It won’t be performed in Philadelphia, though, because the show’s licensing abettor threatened to sue. The bureau says the producers abandoned their arrangement by casting women in all the roles. From affiliate base WHYY, Joel Rose reports.
JOEL ROSE reporting:
The appellation “Grease” refers to the fast aliment and motor oil that were axial to 1950s boyhood culture. It additionally could administer to the hairstyle of John Travolta who played Danny Zuko in the 1978 movie.
(Soundbite from “Grease”)
Mr. JOHN TRAVOLTA: (As Danny Zuko) (Singing) Summer lovin’. Had to a blast.
Ms. OLIVIA NEWTON-JOHN: (As Sandy) (Singing) Summer lovin’. Happened so fast.
Unidentified Singers: (Singing) I met a girl…
Ms. LEE ETZEL (Actress): (Singing) …crazy for me. Met a boy beautiful as can be.
That’s Sandy’s part.
ROSE: Lee Etzel grew up alert to the cine soundtrack. So aback she got a adventitious to comedy the role of Danny Zuko in the Philadelphia production, she didn’t hesitate.
Ms. ETZEL: I accept consistently admired singing John Travolta’s genitalia in all the songs, so that allotment was a done accord and additionally mainly because actuality a six-foot-tall extra in Philadelphia does absolute the roles you get to play.
ROSE: She didn’t get to comedy this one either. “Grease” was to be a accord amid two baby amphitheater companies. Madi Distefano, aesthetic administrator of Brat Productions, says they re-imagined “Grease” as it ability be performed at an all-girls aerial school.
Ms. MADI DISTEFANO (Artistic Director, Brat Productions): It was abacus aloof a little aspect of farce, but it was a accurate choice. It was a artistic choice. In this day and age, with balanced casting, gender-blind casting, gay bodies arena beeline roles, beeline arena gay roles, like, I can’t accept addition would accept an argument to this.
ROSE: But addition did, namely the aggregation that handles the musical’s licensing, Samuel French, Incorporated. Distefano says she got a cease-and-desist letter from the New York-based aggregation a few hours afore the aboriginal appointed performance.
Ms. DISTEFANO: Originally, their argument was to an all-female cast. They were claiming that alteration the gender of the actors was the aforementioned as alteration the script, and afresh their argument broadened to accommodate the apriorism that it was a girls high-school production.
ROSE: If you appetite to aftermath “Grease,” you aboriginal accept to assurance a accepted arrangement adage that you won’t aberrate from the musical’s calligraphy after permission. Distefano says her assembly was affectionate to the words of the calligraphy but that may not be enough.
Mr. BOB JARVIS (Nova Southeastern University): Aback the author creates a play, best playwrights apprehend that their assignment will be admired and that they’ll be performed the way that they envisioned them.
ROSE: Bob Jarvis teaches law at Nova Southeastern University in Florida and he’s the co-writer of a arbiter on amphitheater law.
Mr. JARVIS: You’re licensing the assignment to accomplish it as written, and as written, it is bright that assertive characters are macho and assertive characters are female. The cloister is activity to sit there and say, `You apperceive what? If you capital to do an all-female production, you should accept asked. You should accept gotten permission to do that.’
ROSE: The producers of the Philadelphia appearance say they did not seek permission to change the gender of the casting because they didn’t apperceive they should. Administrator Madi Distefano says the arrangement they active did not actually acknowledgment gender.
Ms. DISTEFANO: They accept aback afflicted their contract. If you download a Samuel French “Grease” arrangement now, it says that changeable roles charge be played by women and macho roles charge be played by men, but that’s casting new in the aftermost week. That wasn’t there aback we active our contract.
ROSE: Samuel French would not animadversion for this story, neither would Jim Jacobs, the actual biographer of “Grease,” but Jacobs joins a continued account of writers who’ve approved to absolute how their works can be cast.
(Soundbite from “Porgy and Bess” musical)
Unidentified Man: (Singing) Oh, Bess. Oh, where’s my Bess? Won’t somebody acquaint me where?
ROSE: Afore he died, George Gershwin defined that alone African-American actors could accomplish his opera “Porgy and Bess.” Law Professor Bob Jarvis says playwrights including Samuel Beckett or their brood accept fought adjoin non-traditional casting.
Mr. JARVIS: Sam Shepard has had a cardinal of instances area bodies accept approved to change his plays decidedly “True West.” There was an attack to change it aftermost year on Broadway that got bankrupt down.
ROSE: At this point, you may be asking: What about all those cross-gender productions of Shakespeare? They’re acknowledged because Shakespeare’s assignment is now in the accessible area and, therefore, you can accomplish any changes you want. And, of course, in the Bard’s time, men would accept played all the women’s roles anyway. Today, women generally comedy macho roles in high-school musicals. John Rae of MacGuffin Amphitheater & Film Aggregation directed an all-female assembly of “Grease” two years ago at St. Maria Goretti Aerial Academy in Philadelphia.
Mr. JOHN RAE (MacGuffin Amphitheater & Film Company): For an all-girls school, it’s actually how it’s done. And I’ve done this alike with a alloyed casting area you don’t accept abundant guys, you’ll-the babe will footfall in and comedy the part. I mean, they don’t kiss on stage, but, you know, they’ll go and do a hug. That’s standard.
ROSE: But alike high-school productions may not be safe. Aloof this accomplished weekend, the Rodgers and Hammerstein Organization chock-full a achievement of the agreeable “Big River” because a white apprentice played the bondservant Jim while a atramentous apprentice played Huck Finn. Samuel French, Incorporated did not try to shut bottomward the high-school assembly of “Grease” in Philadelphia, but the aggregation did try to anticipate a gross-gender able production. Actor and administrator Jillian Armenante plays advocate Donna Kozlowski on the TV alternation “Judging Amy.” In 1992, she directed a able assembly of “Grease” at Alice B. Theatre in Seattle with men in the women’s roles and men in the women’s roles. Armenante says she got a cease-and-desist letter from Samuel French but went advanced with the appearance anyway.
Ms. JILLIAN ARMENANTE (Actor, Director): It’s OK for me to comedy a Hispanic woman in “West Side Story.” It’s OK for me to comedy a beeline advocate on television. I’ve played abounding men in plays. So aback they approached me and said, `You can’t do this play,’ I said, `Well, appear and stop me.’
ROSE: Armenante says the appearance was a hit and she never heard from Samuel French again. The producers of the Philadelphia appearance are still aggravating to actuate the aggregation to acquiesce their all-female assembly so far after success. So they’re application the aforementioned apparel and backdrop in a abusive 1950s-style agreeable alleged “Grease and Desist.”
(Soundbite from “Grease and Desist”)
Unidentified Woman #1: (Singing) Down, down, bottomward the bank I can break a year or maybe more.
Unidentified Woman #2: I can …(unintelligible) shore.
Group: (Singing) Down, down, bottomward the shore.
ROSE: Actor Lee Etzel still gets to glossy aback her beard and abrasion a white T-shirt that shows off her biceps, but she says it’s not absolutely the aforementioned as arena Danny Zuko.
Ms. ETZEL: I’m actual sad, but it’s not like I’m giving up. Hopefully, one day there will be a new attitude.
ROSE: If not, all-girls aerial schools about the country may accept to acquisition a new admired agreeable or booty their chances.
For NPR News, I’m Joel Rose in Philadelphia.
(Soundbite from “Grease”)
Ms. NEWTON-JOHN: (As Sandy) (Singing) We backward out till 10:00.
Mr. TRAVOLTA: (As Zuko) (Singing) Summer fling, don’t beggarly a thing, but uh-oh those summer nights.
MONTAGNE: This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I’m Renee Montagne.
(Soundbite from “Grease”)
Group: Shoo-bop bop, shoo-bop bop, shoo-bop bop, shoo-bop bop, shoo-bop bop, shoo-bop bop, shoo-bop bop. Yeah.
Ms. NEWTON-JOHN: (As Sandy) He got friendly, captivation my hand.
Copyright © 2005 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website agreement of use and permissions pages at www.npr.org for added information.
NPR transcripts are created on a blitz borderline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced application a proprietary archetype action developed with NPR. This argument may not be in its final anatomy and may be adapted or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The accurate almanac of NPR’s programming is the audio record.
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