In the basement of the Eugene O'Neill theater, between scene and costume changes, members of the cast and crew gathered around a TV set to watch the Australian Open final. Each time Shields, the star of the show, came offstage, she stuck her head down the stairwell and hissed, "What's the score?"
When Agassi returned from Australia and his four-set victory over Sampras, he rushed to New York to attend Grease for the thirtysomethingth time. Agassi has spent so much time in Shields's dressing room that he is practically a cast member. Shields throws open the door of her small refrigerator to display rows of green cans. "I have Mountain Dew in here," she says, referring to Agassi's favorite soft drink. "What's happened to my life?"
It is intermission, and Shields is attempting to relax in a 1950s prom dress with a wire bustier. From her collar Agassi plucks a hairpin that is threatening to plummet into her cleavage. "Thank you, sweet," she says, and launches into a series of anecdotes about the things that have fallen down her false front during her four months in the show. "The other actors are always spitting their cough lozenges down there," she says.
Shields is what used to be known as a game girl. She may have been a famous beauty since she began modeling as an 11-month-old, but she delights in hurling herself from her pedestal. So she tells stories about how she reached for a drink of water onstage and swallowed hydrogen peroxide instead, nearly throwing up on the audience. She has received positive reviews for her portrayal of Rizzo, the libidinous, tough-talking leader of the Pink Ladies social club, and without a doubt Shields understands how effective it is for a stunning woman to go against type.
And she knows just how to handle a tough case like Mike Agassi. When Andre took her home to meet his parents, the six-foot Shields left the room for a moment and Andre, who's 5'11", asked proudly, "Isn't she wonderful?"
"She's too tall," Mike said. "She shouldn't wear heels."
When Andre related this to his beloved, Shields carefully planned a telling reply. It came when Andre took her to the tennis court in the backyard for a lesson. She was doing fine, and then Mike began to correct her strokes. "Get under the ball," he told her.
"I can't," she shot back. "I'm too tall."
Shields, 29, and Agassi may be an unlikely couple, but they share more than anyone suspects. She was raised by her ambitious, charming and alcoholic stage mother, Teri, who doubled as her manager. Above all, Shields and Agassi are survivors. Both have failed and rebounded: While Agassi was losing three Grand Slam finals, Shields's film career was floundering. They keep a wary if giggling count of which relatives and friends are fair-weather, which ones call with no hidden agenda and which ones "come with a 'gimme' attached," as Shields puts it.
The show has ended, and Agassi lounges in the ghostly light of the empty stage and waits for Shields to finish greeting her admirers and signing autographs. "I love performances," he says as he gazes out over the theater. "The thing I can learn from these people is their professionalism. How to bring out the best when maybe you don't feel like it's there. It's easy to perform when you feel good."