Theatre Mirror Reviews - "Grease"

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note: entire contents copyright 2004 by Carl A. Rossi


"GREASE"

book, lyrics and music by Jim Jacobs and Warren Casey
directed and choreographed by Jennifer Condon
musical direction by Paul Huberdeau

Miss Lynch … Annita Brockney
Patty Simcox … Julie Singer
Eugene Florczyk … Joey Mirabele
Jan … Shonna McEachern
Marty … Lauren Gemelli
Betty Rizzo … Katie Ford
Doody … Jed Alevizos
Roger … Eric “D”
Kenicke … Paul Mayo
Sonny La Tierri … Charlie Walsh
Frenchy … Anne Freund
Sandy Dumbrowski … Andrea Polan
Danny Zuko … David Palen
Vince Fontaine … Jim Jordan
Johnny Casino … James Tallach
Cha Cha DeGregorio; Connie … Christina Pothier
Teen Angel … Michael Parsons
Prom Girl; Shelly … Kimberly Schaeffer
Buddy … Will Morningstar
Peggy … Whitney Stone
Debbie … Jamie Lyn Slatt
Ricky … Joe Vitti
Bobby … Brent Kincaide
Frankie; Dance Captain … Matt Laurenza

Orchestra:

Conductor; Keyboard … Paul Huberdeau
Percussion … Steve Jounakos
Bass … Rob Orr; Dave Weisman; Lisa Hudson
Guitar … Jerry Weene; David Doucette
Woodwinds … Jeri Sykes; Jerry Vejmola; Ben Goddard

GREASE, long-billed as “a new 50’s Rock ‘n’ Roll Musical”, has aged very well, largely because it was created in the early ‘70s when nostalgia for the past flourished alongside the new permissiveness of the present. Time’s distancing allowed Jim Jacobs and Warren Casey to sift through the Eisenhower years and come up with a sunny entertainment free of the era’s nuclear fears, social unrest and numbing conformity --- despite the Burger Palace Boys’ slicked-back hair and the Pink Ladies’ virgin pins and insignia jackets, GREASE is timeless with the emphasis on the eternal teen issues of cars, music and who is dating whom (and more); its characters poised between chafing adolescence and beckoning maturity. The plot is minimal --- Danny Zuko, the leader of the pack, falls for Sandy Dumbrowski, a Good Girl; two star-crossed lovers who run parallel in the end (had GREASE been written in the 50s, Sandy would never have crossed over) --- but the show is cheeky fun from beginning to end and has one of the best Broadway scores of the past few decades, so authentic-sounding that a listening novice would swear it’s Oldies Weekend on the Top 40.

The Turtle Lane production is good summer fare, simple and direct, with its youthful cast matching their characters in rough-and-tumble energy and infectious good spirits. Jennifer Condon once again has come up with choreography tailored for non-dancers, consisting of hula-hula-hula to right, hula-hula-hula to the left, marching or hopping about the stage, and the occasional air-split, but when executed en masse the effect is almost Fosse-like. Her pictorial sense is somewhat askew --- a handful of numbers has the lead singer(s) upstage while the others cavort downstage; even the lovely eleven o’clock torch song, “There Are Worse Things I Could Do”, has Rizzo (the obligatory bad girl) planted on the apron, tossing words over her shoulder to her nemesis, upstage at the proscenium --- Ms. Condon also needs to rein in all that lusty vocalizing: many witty lyrics get drowned out by the back-ups, and the multi-layered dialogue at the School Dance soon mishmashes into chaos. But these quibbles vanish when placed against the joy of seeing Ms. Condon’s cast clearly enjoying themselves with material so alien to their own culture; in an anthropological sense, their bodies and voices --- with two exceptions --- are light-years away from what being cool in the ‘50s was all about; the young men, in particular, perform their falsetto yodels and hiccups on a monkey-hear, monkey-do basis; that vocal tradition fell by the wayside long ago with the demise of doo-wop (when rap turns nostalgic, its current severed from its source, the results will be the same). Those two exceptions are Paul Mayo as the greaser Kenicke and Katie Ford as Rizzo: Mr. Mayo, good-looking and well-built, moves with a Kowalski’s grace and concentrated danger (interestingly enough, he is the least explosive in the dance numbers but no less watchable) and Ms. Ford so resembles a plump version of the young Brenda Lee that I was not surprised to hear her sing in similarly sweet, plaintive tones. Though she plays the role of the ever-dating Marty as a prim secretary on the make, Lauren Gemelli is blessed with a presence, a fine voice and a high kick in Act Two where her ankle kisses her ear (when I wasn’t watching Mr. Mayo, I was watching her); Julie Singer and Joey Mirabele as the scene-stealing squares from Squaresville do equally amazing things with their own legs and Jim Jordan is perfect as Vince Fontaine the phony-baloney d.j., all smiles and cue cards. As Danny, David Palen is bland but likeable (he’s the vanilla to Mr. Mayo’s rocky road; they have a running ritual with their combs); Andrea Polan’s Sandy, however, is positively freeze-dried --- her portrayal makes for a creditable Pink Lady but that transformation comes only in the final minutes of the evening; the lovers may sing of summer nights but unless she thaws during the run, Ms. Polan’s Sandy is that lonely winter awaiting the promised kiss of springtime --- a ‘30s quote for this ‘50s show written in the ‘70s.

"Grease" (9 July-15 August)
TURTLE LANE PLAYHOUSE
283 Melrose Street, NEWTON, MA 02166
1 (617) 244-0169

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