Grease is the Word…and it’s a fantastic one. Most likely, at the end, you’ll be twisting and hand-jiving up the aisles and finding it impossible to stop humming its tunes long after you’ve arrived home. It doesn’t matter if it’s your first time or your tenth time seeing the show…the delight will be fresh.
The story is simple…high school students in the 1950s are divided into cliques…the tough T Birds, the jocks, the nerds, the cheerleaders, and the various and sundry misfits. Tough guy Danny Zuko spends the summer wooing an old fashioned girl who shows up as the new kid in school. In order to save face with his buddies, he dismisses her, and the rivalry between the cliques begins. There’s a car transformation, “Grease Lightnin“, a school dance, “Born to Hand Jive“, a beautician in crisis, “Beauty School Dropout”, a pregnancy scare, “There Are Worse Things I Could Do”, and a big happy ending, “We Go Together”. The songs are infectious, the sets are colorfully bold, and there’s a shimmery, shiny Taylor Hicks as Teen Angel lowered from the sky.
Director-Choreographer Kathleen Marshall has assembled a gifted and energetic cast of up and coming Broadway talent. The male performers seem to have a slight edge on the ladies as far as polish and overall skill, but they all get chances to shine. Standouts include a marvelous David Ruffin as Kenickie…the only disappointment here is that Kenickie doesn’t have enough to sing! Ruffin has charisma in spades, natural dancing ability, and a stellar voice. Ace Young, who, as Danny Zuko, has tall shoes to fill since John Travolta’s movie portrayal, is consistently good without being great. He’s got a solid voice and smooth moves, but is a little weaker in more dramatic moments. He does get a chance to showcase his comedic chops in the “drive-in movie” scene.
Laura D’Andre as Rizzo takes a long time to warm up…she needs to pop with sass and rebellion from her first entrance and she really didn’t find her character until her solo number “There Are Worse Things I Could Do”. Here, she plants herself sturdily and sings with a clear and bright mezzo soprano.
Lauren Ashley Zakrin has the challenge of making sweet and prim ingenue Sandy into something exciting, but didn’t quite rise to the occasion. Vocally she’s quite strong, with a three octave range but often inconsistent when switching between her registers. Zakrin fluctuated between belting (while it sounded good, it was often out of character) and using a vibrant operetta style soprano. It may very well have been the call of the musical director, but it didn’t serve her well. Her acting was satisfactory, however, and her dancing skilled, and she was pretty and poised throughout her performance.
The Pink Ladies were all talented…Bridie Carroll as the awkward but enthusiastic Jan is fun, and shines in her song with T Bird Roger, “Mooning.” Kate Morgan Chadwick is simply an adorable Frenchy. Her bubble-headed, cutesy style of, well, everything fits her character to a T.
Kelly Felthous as blonde bombshell Marty is a knockout…her singing, dancing, and acting are a cut above the rest, and she “pops” in every scene she’s in. She has the intangible It Factor, with marvelous expression and timing and is just a breath of fresh air. It’s a role that’s often forgettable, but not this time.
The T Birds were such an amiable bunch. And man…what voices! Will Blum as Roger had a gorgeous tenor, and Jesse JP Johnson as Doody had a fantastic timbre and really embodied the style of the period.
Let’s not forget Dominic Fortune as the DJ Vince Fontaine (great voice, and one was instantly catapulted back to the era with his lively performance), and, of course, there is American Idol Taylor Hicks as the Teen Angel. The Teen Angel is meant to be cheesy and silly, and Hicks was both of those things, but the campy way the role was played actually added something special to the show, much to my surprise. He sang with a great deal of his trademark blues/soul style, and adding the harmonica was a stroke of genius. You don’t bring in an internationally recognized face for a cameo unless it can impress…and Hicks delivers the goods.
Despite a good balance of vocalization and instrumentation, performers need to watch their diction. Even with a show as familiar to audiences as this one, the words are still important. The biggest downfall of the entire show was actually the finale. Where it needed the most punch and splash, it was a little tame, and a bit lethargic. I’d blame it on a Tuesday night performance, but since the house was nearly sold out and extremely enthusiastic, it couldn’t have been just that.
The musical has undergone many transformations. It debuted on Broadway in 1972, and had a successful film version in 1978. Many people recognize the songs added from the movie (written expressly for its pop singer star Olivia Newton-John), but it’s also nice to hear the more unusual tunes, like “Freddy My Love” and “Those Magic Changes.”
There’s an element of cartoon reflected in the exaggerated hairstyles (Paul Huntley) and costumes (Martin Pakledinaz) of the female cast…it’s a ton of fun. The boys are more natural in their style, and it makes for a nice contrast in texture…that’s right…this show has texture. Watching the sea of tulle skirted teens at the dance, it was a Degas painting in motion. The orchestra plows through the upbeat rock ‘n roll score with excellent pacing, rhythm and musicality. Kudos to Kenneth Posner for making the lighting design exceptional and such an integral part of the action.
It’s not a perfect show, but that’s okay … it’s lovely in all of its flawed, juvenile, toe tapping glory. In hard times like these, it’s a wonderful release to allow yourself to be swept away by sheer entertainment. This production provides that bliss, and it’s worth every penny. Indulge yourself in a frivolously good time.
by Jim Jacobs and Warren Casey
directed by Kathleen Marshall
the national tour is presented at the National Theatre
reviewed by McCall Noelle Doyle
Grease runs through February 21, 2010.
For Details, Directions and Tickets, click here.