During this high-stress midterm period, many Harvard students dream of simpler times when homework could be done before dinner and tests covered a week's worth of material. There's no going back to the carefree days of youth, but for a few dollars, director John Weinstein's production of Grease can make you forget that exam.
Weinstein and producer Scott Arsenault have hit upon a winning formula for staging a show. A strong script and well-known songs are combined with talented acting, skillful singing, lively choreography and colorful costumes. The result is an entertaining production.
As the audience enters the theater, they are greeted as if present at a Rydell High School reunion. The set is painted with images from the 50s: a juke box, the old RCA record label and period Pepsi bottlecaps. The effect is eye-catching, if a bit unconnected to the events of the play.
Grease, made legendary by the movie starring John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John, focuses on the high school romance of Danny Zuko (Adam Freed) and Sandy Dumbrowski (Faith Salie). Their summer fling is put to the test when Sandy unexpectedly enrolls in Rydell, Danny's high school, and must fit in with his friends. They are the decidedly cool T-Birds and Pink Ladies who do not readily accept good girl Dumbrowski. Sandy's eventual conversion into a spandex-clad vixen has Danny on his knees and the rest of Rydell cheering.
Thanks to strong vocals and Weinstein's creative choreography, the big musical numbers are the highlights of the show. Unfortunately, the band and chorus occasionally overwhelm the lead singers, drowning out their Iyrics. "Summer Nights" and "Beauty School Drop-Out," two of the show's best songs, are marred by this problem. However, the overall strength of the songs compensates for this weakness.
Most actresses gave outstanding performances. Salie played Sandy with the right mix of innocence and feistiness, avoiding annoying cuteness. Heather Thompson, as Betty Rizzo, was another standout, her sweet voice countering an abrasive character. Thompson carries the one serious scene in the play with convincing emotion, showing that her character is more than a wisecracking teenager. Also noteworthy were Frenchy (Jen Bell), a beautician run amok; the always hungry Jan (Susan Gray) and irritating cheerleader Patty Simcox (Tina Hsu).
Freed, leading the T-Birds, plays his role with charmingly transparent bravado, accentuating Zuko's immaturity while remaining sympathetic. Kenickie (Barry Littleman) romps through "Greased Lightning," an enjoyable homage to machissmo. Casey Gallagher, as Doody, is amusingly nerdy and boasts one of the strongest voices in the cast. His romance with the much taller Bell has great comic effect.
The weak link in this show is Joseph Choi, as Sonny LaTierri. He delivers his lines stiffly, slowing down the scenes in which he appears. Andrew Howard, as Vince Fontaine, the sleazy disc jockey, and Marc Jones, as the school nerd Eugene, are entertaining, though less significant.
The disadvantage in putting on such a well-known play is that the audience's expectations are high, and they have pre-formed notions as to how the show should be interpreted. Weinstein has a knack for staging Grease in both a fresh and recognizable manner. He gives the audience what they are looking for in a production that adheres closely to the exuberent musical comedy that we all know and love.