Grease is the word. Grease is what’s needed to lubricate the rust that all the recent rains have caused. And now that we can see the stars again at night, the crowd-pleasing, high-octane entertainment that is Grease is just the thing to get the crowds coming back to Theatre Under the Stars.
Grease is a phenomenon. Originating in the early 1970s at the same time as American Graffiti and Happy Days, it looks back with irony and nostalgia at teen culture circa 1960 and the rock ‘n roll soundtrack that accompanied it.
Never mind that so much of it is nonsensical. (“Grease is the way that we’re feeling”—what does that mean??) Never mind that it celebrates the culture of dropouts, “tramps,” and juvenile delinquents that generations of parents and politicians before and since have fought to eliminate. Never mind that it speaks a language incomprehensible to most of today’s kids. (Shelley Fabares? submarine race-watching?) Even though nearly everyone has seen a high school production, the movie, and probably one or more touring companies, its popularity never fades.
Grease should be the perfect TUTS show: characters more or less the young actors’ own age, the musical idiom modern and familiar, the energy high. Jim Jacobs and Warren Casey’s score and lyrics provide a whack of great musical numbers for the large ensemble cast to show off their singing and dancing skills.
The dialogue scenes, relying on broad urban American stereotypes, mostly fall flat in Lalainia Lindbjerg Strelau’s TUTS production. But with excellent support from James Bryson’s six-piece rock band, this show doesn’t disappoint when it comes to the music, even if the muddy sound system and excessive treble in the mix are sometimes hard on the ears.
I’m always amazed at just how much musical theatre talent we have in this town, and it’s on full display here. Gaelen Beatty and Tracy Neff, as central characters Danny and Sandy, both have acting chops and the voices to carry off their big solo numbers, “Hopelessly Devoted to You” and “Alone at a Drive-In Movie.”
Pink Ladies Melissa Assalone, Louisa O’Keane, Kayla Dunbar, and especially Nicole Stevens as Rizzo sustain some nice girl-group harmonies. Danny’s gang of greasers, including Mark Turpin, Tyson Coady, and Daniel Johnston, excel in the athletic, up-tempo numbers like “Greased Lightning,” and really rock out in the big productions, “Those Magic Changes” and “Hand Jive,” led by the kick-ass vocals of Robert Markus’ Doody.
Taryn Faustman’s bravura dancing at the high school prom and Andrew Cohen’s show-stopping evangelical soul-singing on “Beauty School Dropout” would excel on any professional stage.
Clever choreography, colourful costumes, and effective lighting all help make this a delightful evening. Now if only the weather would cooperate.