Grease (Review)

Classic story lacks much plot, but it can dance

Jan 22, 2009 at 2:06 pm

The musical Grease has been around for nearly four decades. It was fun and retro back in 1972, but 37 years later it’s more like a cartoon, at least in the touring version currently at the Aronoff Center for the Arts.

Did people really act like that? Well, yes. But you can see the same shenanigans and cardboard characters in reruns of Happy Days. So do we really need this odd tale about teen conformity?

The show’s 1978 film was a hit with John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John singing several tunes not in the original stage version. The touring show, based on a 2007 Broadway revival that just closed, includes four of those songs: “Hopelessly Devoted to You,” “Sandy,” “You’re the One That I Want” and the title number, used as the show’s big, energetic opening. This version of Grease has tons of energy, especially in dance sequences. But the musical is hopelessly lacking a coherent plot, so my engine never really started.

Nevertheless, many in the audience had fun hearing tunes they remembered. (This production even uses Grease’s DJ, Vic Fontaine, played by Dominic Fortuna, as a warm-up act about 10 minutes before the show starts. He ably sings a few familiar hits from the era and gets the audience to sing along.) The best part of this production is the lively choreography, especially “Born to Hand-Jive,” which the youthful cast dances with zeal.

Many are attending this production to check out Taylor Hicks, the American Idol winner from 2006 in a cameo as Teen Angel, a role he began during the revival’s Broadway run. He wears a glittering suit and descends from an immense ice cream cone, but his song (“Beauty School Dropout”) doesn’t give him much to do, even though he’s backed up by a quartet wearing hair-drying bonnets. He returns during the curtain call to sing again, but if you’re really a fan, buying his next recording (out in early February) might be more satisfying.

Eric Schneider poses with lots of attitude as Danny Zuko, and Emily Padgett, who has a lovely soprano voice, makes Sandy Dumbrowski’s illogical transition from pretty prude to slinky slut. But I found myself mostly bored by Grease, a piece of quaint musical theater history that fails to offer much to audiences in 2009.

GREASE, presented by Broadway Across America, continues through Feb. 1 at the Aronoff Center for the Arts. Buy tickets, check out performance times and find nearby bars and restaurants here.