Like most area theatergoers and reviewers, I’ve seen the ever-popular musical, “Grease!,” several times, performed by community, professional, and touring companies. I also saw the 1978 hit movie with John Travolta and then-Australian sensation, Olivia Newton John.
Last week, I questioned how North Shore Music Theatre’s (NSMT) circular stage could handle all the oomph, energy, teeny-bop, jive-alive numbers, and the transformation of the T-Birds’ jalopy, Greased Lightnin’, from a salvage yard metal heap (on stolen wheels and hub caps) to a souped-up, drag race contender.
The musical is a spoof of 1950’s rock ‘n’ rolling teen-agers, steeped with nostalgia of those good old high school days, but it’s more of a vehicle for the show’s energetic, ensemble numbers, reliving teens’ close dancing and acrobatic dance moves that drove parents, teachers and clergymen into a frenzy. Those were the days. Teen-age lovers crooned and cuddled to dreamy, harmonious, romantic tunes that aired on the radio, hosted by obnoxious DJs, who spun favorite tunes, taking requests, and sending personal messages to listeners, over the airways.
NSMT’s “Grease!” has all of this, but it lacks the dynamism this rollicking musical demands, especially in the first act. Music Director Craig Barna and his seven musicians sound thin in some first act numbers, but return post-intermission, jolted with an injection of adrenaline. The “Megamix” finale bursts with energy, as the cast dances and sings a reprise of the show’s hit tunes, on stage and in the aisles.
In a clever introduction, the show opens at a Rydell High School Class of 1959 reunion, with former prim English teacher-principal Miss Lynch (Marblehead’s versatile crowd-pleaser, award-winning actress, Cheryl McMahon) addressing theatergoers-turned-attendees. Miss Lynch singles out one of her favorite goody-two shoes students among us; a gum-chewer; the former prom king and queen; a library book offender, who never returned the loaned tome, etc. The audience interaction is funny initially, but wears thin quickly. Standing on a platform among theatergoers, garbed in graduation gowns and mortarboards, the school choir sings the school anthem. Suddenly, the scene flashes back, to the first day of school in 1959, with tough guys like the T-Birds garbed in high-top sneakers, white T-shirts, chains, black leather jackets, and greased-up ducktail ‘dos.
The girls- especially “cool” Pink Ladies here - wear signature, shiny pink jackets. They smoke cigarettes, chug from wine and whiskey jugs, wear sheath or twirly dresses and skirts, with layers of crinolines underneath. Costume coordinator David Costa-Cabral aimed for accuracy, down to the kids’ bobby sox, neckerchiefs and a poodle skirt, but some of his choices are ‘50s fashion faux pas.
This production has all the big numbers of the 1972 hit Broadway play and 1978 movie including “Summer Nights,” “We Go Together,” “Hopelessly Devoted to You,” “Beauty School Drop-out,” and the T-Birds’ testosterone-fueled number, “Greased Lightning” (thanks to Mark Stuart’s slick choreography). A heap of rusted junk is supposed to be transformed into a sleek, slick, shiny red hot rod, with flames on its sides. In this production, though, the car rolls on stage, looking like a kids’ home-constructed, box-like vehicle on wheels, and never achieves snazzy road-racing status, despite its stolen hub caps and tires.
Jeff Modereger’s set is understandably sparse, but special effects such as drive-in movies add great nostalgic touches.
“Grease!” characters are supposed to be caricatures of the era’s teens, from goody-two-shoes geek, Eugene Florczyk (Jason Moody) and class officer-cheerleader Patty Simcox (Hillary Ekwall) to sweet, doe-eyed transfer student, Sandy Dumbrowski (Ephie Aardema),and her summer romance bad boyfriend, Danny Zuko (Matthew Ragas). Unfortunately, most of the cast overacts.
However, Brooke Shapiro as Pink Lady Jan, who loves to eat and finds her match in T-Bird mooner, Roger (Michael Mendez) add sparks of humor and harmony together, especially in their duet, “Mooning”. And Gerianne Perez portraying caustic Pink Lady Rizzo brings down the house with her solo, “There Are Worse Things I Could Do”.
Ephie Aardema’s portrayal of Sandy, is also dynamic in her big transformation numbers, “Look at Me, I’m Sandra Dee,” and final duet with Danny in “You’re the One That I Want”. Unfortunately, Aardema and Zuko veteran performer Ragas lack chemistry together. Lilly Tobin is delightful as beauty-school dropout-Pink Lady, Frenchy; Tony Lawson is deliberately sleazy as DJ Vince Fontaine ( he’s also Frenchy’s Teen Angel); and Winthrop shining star, Stephanie Moskal, is unseen as the cast’s six-person understudy, but her lovely voice blends beautifully with Aardema’s, in “Raining on Prom Night”.
BOX INFO: Two-act musical, book, music and lyrics by Jim Jacobs and Warren Casey, appearing at the North Shore Music Theatre, 62 Dunham Road, Beverly, through Aug. 24:Tuesday-Thursday, at 7:30 p.m.; Friday, Saturday, at 8 p.m.; matinees, Wednesday, Saturday, Sunday, at 2 p.m. Tickets:$50-$75. Visit online at www.nsmt.org, the Box Office, or call 978-232-7200.