Words, Music & Book
by Jim Jacobs & Warren Casey
directed by Jeff Calhoun
at the Colonial Theatre
through February 13
Chances are you've seen Grease. Your high school did it, your junior high did it, you were in it at summer camp. And you've definitely seen the movie. If you have a burning desire to see it again, this time with better sets, the current production at the Colonial is for you.
Billed as "the Tommy Tune production of Grease," although Tune's role is unclear, the show has a screaming neon set and vivid, creative lighting. The cast's energy nearly makes up for the inevitability of them looking at least ten years too old to be in high school. Headlined by Rosie O'Donnell as Rizzo, the cast ably fills the cardboard stereotypes: Michelle Blakely as prissy Patty Simcox, Jessica Stone as aimless Frenchy, and Ricky Paull Goldin as tough-guy Danny Zuko.
The fun begins with resident deejay Vince Fontaine (Brain Bradley) inviting the pre-teens in the audience to dance to '50s hits onstage. It's pointless fun but goes on far too long. Which isn't really such a bad introduction to the real show.
Grease has no plot; the scenario that connects the musical numbers is the arrival of a new girl at Rydell High, Sandy Dumbrowski (Susan Wood). After her summer romance with high school hot-shot Zuko, he ignores her in front of his gang of delinquent buddies. She is improbably accepted by the Pink Ladies, the school's group of wilder women, despite their scorn for her virginal bobby-sox image. The acting is competent but no one shines. Some genuine emotion or a bit of chemistry between the couples might have made the evening somewhat more bearable. The audience has no reason to care if Sandy and Danny ever see each other again.
What the show does have in abundance is a non-stop barrage of high-volume song and dance numbers, staged in drill team fashion by director/choreographer Jeff Calhoun. The appealing songs are the ones you already know: "Summer Loving," "We Go Together" and "Greased Lightnin,"' and the others aren't worth hearing. The one good thing about O'Donnell's plaintive lament, "There Are Worse Things I Could Do" is that it is fairly short. The problem with playing classics like "Good Golly, Miss Molly" and "Peggy Sue" at intermission is that they highlight the poverty of the show's own songs.
Grease barely stops for a breath; if it did the audience would realize that there's nothing there. The only attempt at drama, Rizzo's pregnancy scare, comes in the final scene of the play and rings embarrassingly false. The characters are such empty stereotypes that Sandy's costume change in the finale makes her almost unrecognizable-without her white dress and ponytail there's nothing left of the character.
The scenic design, by John Arnone, is appealing once your eyes adjust to the glare. The stage is framed by a painted screen decorated with cheesy '50s icons (tail fins, an "I Like Ike" button) and the omnipresent numerals 1-9-5-7. (That's the year, get it?) Howell Binkley's lighting comes in the same day glo hues, and succeeds most notably when the choreography is silhouetted against bright orange and yellow backlight. The costuming is outrageously gaudy; after the fifth combination of pink and black leather you begin to long for some nice pastels.
One of the problems with recycling old shows is the recycling of old ideas and attitudes that come with them. Archaic and insulting stereotypes of women are especially disturbing in a show like Grease, with its built-in audience of screaming 12 year-old girls.
Although the production is competently executed and insipidly entertaining, it is unclear why it is being revived. When Grease arrives on Broadway it will join revivals of Guys and Dolls, My Fair Lady, and Joseph and His Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat. Good shows all, but the expense of producing a Broadway production steers investors toward sure bets like those and away from new musicals. This leaves a season that entertains tourists but is artistic junk food.