note: entire contents copyright 2011 by Sheila Barth
The national touring company production of “Grease,” that appeared last week at the Citi Performing Arts Center Wang Theatre, started off with a rousing welcome, lost much of its sizzle, fizzling to tepid responses to most numbers, then rallied to a rocking finale.
Most of the time, though, it fell flat.
Without notice, Broadway-national touring company star Dominic Fortuna replaced Eddie Mekka as WAXX DJ Vince Fontaine and Teen Angel. He revved up the crowd and took potshots at Revere at times, getting hearty laughter during his pre-show opening as unctuous, duck-tailed Fontaine.
However, the pace is uneven and the cast, overall, uninspiring.
This production has all the big numbers of the 1972 hit Broadway play and 1978 movie that starred Olivia Newton John and John Travolta, including “Summer Nights,” “We Go Together,” “Hopelessly Devoted to You,” and “Beauty School Drop-out”. The biggest hit was Patrick Cragin leading the T-Birds in a testosterone-fueled “Greased Lightning,” when a heap of rusted junk is transformed into a sleek, slick, shiny red hot rod, with flames on its sides.
Director David O’Brien rushes some scenes and drags others. Also, the play’s characters are caricatures of teen-agers in the late 1950s, when guys revved up their cars for drag races and strode around in jeans, black leather jackets, T-shirts, and chains. The girls wore big hairdos, big skirts with layers of scratchy crinolines underneath, but not the cheesy-looking clothing and prom gowns award-winning Martin Pakledinaz selected here. I bet the Pink Ladies wouldn’t be caught dead in these outfits. Also cheap-looking are award-winner Derek McLane’s sets.
Excluding Fortuna and Cragin, who portrays the car-lovin,‘ fast-moving Kenickie, the rest of the cast overacts in roles that are hyperbolic stereotypes.
Matt Nolan as Rydell High School big man on campus, Danny Zuko, is overly self-important with every movement, and Alyssa Herrera as doe-eyed, innocent Sandy Dumbrowski is sickeningly saccharine. Although Herrera shines in her big transformation numbers near the end, “Look at me, I’m Sandra Dee,” and “You’re the One That I Want,” she and Nolan lack chemistry as “Grease’s” dynamic duo.
Although Lauren Elaine Taylor as Rizzo overdoes the tough girl image most of the time, she has her moments. Joyce Chittick’s choreography, especially during fast-paced ensemble numbers, such as “Hand Jive” and “Greased Lightning,” are show-savers; but Ashley Wallace as fiery transplant from Immaculata School, Cha-Cha DiGregorio, and Nolan, get lost in the shuffle during their winning prom dance-off number.