Grease Lit Up The Pantages Stage
By James Metropole
For those of us old enough to remember, Grease was a charming misfit in the pantheon of modern urban musicals. There were others, Bye, Bye Birdie fluttered in and out quickly, West Side Story (mainly due to the Bernstein score and the choreography, not the dippy lyrics) came and stayed around. How To Succeed In Business Without Really Trying and Hair were on that list as well.
But Grease has had a most remarkable career, and became the longest running musical in history until it was beaten by A Chorus Line. But this Jim Jacobs and Warren Casey invention – book, music, and lyrics—celebrated the time when America leapt out of conformity and conservatism and started to embrace the sexual revolution of the 60s. In its record-breaking original Broadway production it was more aggressive, raunchy, and vulgar—and ran for 3,388 performances. But over the years it has been somewhat sanitized, more than likely to conform to regional community theatre standards. Nevertheless, or because of that, it has become a staple of regional theater, summer stock, community theatre, and high school drama groups.
This production, which just closed its latest run at the Pantages, is an absolute gem. And it utilizes a current cultural hero–Taylor Hicks from American Idol—in the Teen Angel number. Hicks takes the mike at the close of the show to perform solo from his new album, The Distance. He will tour with this production around the country.
The story is not the strong point of the evening. Once again we have two people in love, refusing to admit it (that was not allowed back then), and proceeding to misunderestimate each other. We have a smartassy greaser (that was what tough dudes were called then) Danny (Eric Schneider), and the prim little goody-goody Sandy (Emily Padgett).
But they find each other and true love after she decides to transform herself into a hot chick, courtesy of a scarlet red sweater and a blazing blonde hairdo.
The absolute fun of Grease however, lies in the production numbers that come one after another. As well they should. Greased Lightening works especially well, as a run-down junky car is converted into a fiery red convertible Thunderbird (much as Sandy will later) while the greasers dance around, in, and on top of it. Look At Me, I’m Sandra Dee performed by Rizzo (Allie Schulz) and You’re The One I Want by Schneider and Padgett are inventive and flashy show stoppers. This new production features hits from the 1978 movie for the first time ever in a Broadway production, including Sandy, and the Oscar-nominated song Hopelessly Devoted To You.
Grease and multiple Tony-winner Kathleen Marshall (director/choreographer) deserve kudos for keeping the energy non-stop by this terrific group of young singers and dancers.