When I was a senior in high school, the head of the Fine Arts Department decided that the musical that year would be Grease. For those of you unfamiliar with the musical-theater canon, Grease tells the story of Danny and Sandy, two high-school students in 1950s America. Though innumberable obstacles conspire to keep them apart, in the end love triumphs when Sandy (played in the 1978 movie by Olivia Newton-John) casts off the innocent persona she’s cultivated in favor of that of a leather-wearing, high-heel-strutting, smoking-hot babe.
I was horrified by the whole thing. Deeply moralistic and prim, I couldn’t imagine a worse message to send to the student body.
“Are you honestly telling me,” I homosexually asked the head of the Fine Arts Department, voice quivering with righteous indignation, “that we’re supposed to get on stage and tell our classmates that they should just ignore their principles and pretend to be people they’re not, just so they’ll be accepted by the cool gang?”
“I’ve got you in mind for the Teen Angel,” she said.
“I’ll be there at 3:00,” I replied. My scruples, while considerable, could not in the end overcome my secret desire to come down from heaven and sing “Beauty School Dropout,” an exhortation to Frenchie to abandon the salon and come back to high school. “Now your bangs are curled,” I’d sing, “your lashes twirled, but still the world is cruel.” Who among my classmates knew that as well as I?
I don’t remember what we had to sing at the auditions but it was not “Beauty School Dropout.” However, as the class’s most nearly out homosexual, I had the best voice in the bunch, so whatever it was I’m sure I was immensely pleased with myself. The role was within my grasp.
Unfortunately, we still had to read lines; all the boys had to alternate in a scene near the beginning of the show in which the ne’er-do-wells who surround Danny are stripping a car. I had no idea what stripping a car was but I knew that, if these roustabouts did it, it had to be an insalubrious pastime. When my turn came to read, I assumed a menacing pose and hissed:
“I don’t know why I brought thith tire iron! I coulda ripped thothe babieth off with my bare handth!!!”
Not my finest hour, I knew, but I wasn’t worried. As the Teen Angel I wouldn’t have to say anything about tire irons; I only had to sing about teasing combs and the steno pool. And so it was with great confidence that I walked into the Fine Arts building the next day to look at the cast list.
I was Eugene, the gay geek, who has a line or two and no songs. Other characters refer to him as “Fruit Boots,” but our director, who worked in an arts and crafts store and whose name was Warren, cut all those lines because he found them offensive.
I got out of that place as soon as I possibly could.