Sunday, May 18, 2003

Grease (Playhouse Square Center)

‘GREASE’ slides through Cleveland

Audience members who came to the Palace Theatre to hear Frankie Avalon recreate his film portrayal of Teen Angel in the film version of ‘GREASE’ got their money’s worth. He not only appeared briefly during the show, but did a Las Vegas stand-up act during the curtain call.

Those who came to see a classic production of ‘GREASE’, the rock and roll musical that captured the true picture of the ‘50s, should have been disappointed. Should have been, but probably weren’t upset because many in the audience didn’t have any idea of what the 50s were all about.

The audience, mostly made up of teens, probably weren’t aware of the lack of era correctness. The costumes were not really those of the poodle skirts, no turned up cuffs on the Levi 501s, no black or white t-shirts with cigarette packs rolled up the sleeves. They didn’t realize that the music had been transposed to make it lose its mellow and true rock sounds. They didn’t realized that the disk jockey didn’t sound like Bill Randall, Phil McLean or Alan Fried, but was a jiving 2003 incarnation.

Those who did know, like the mature lady sitting in front of me who, during the precurtain music was clapping and jumping in her seat with anticipation of the reliving of her youth, knew. As the play went on she sunk further and further into her chair. At the curtain call, when the kids rose screaming to their feet, she sat, clapping, politely, but unenthusiastically.

Director Ray DeMattis has supposedly directed ‘GREASE’ on numerous tours. Why he decided not to capture the roots of the show which gave birth to such Fifties craze productions as the classic ‘AMERICAN GRAFFITI’ film, and the top-rated ‘HAPPY DAYS’ television show, is beyond understanding. The film version of ‘GREASE’ which added some songs, but duplicated the clear picture of the ‘50s, was the top money making musical film ever, even surpassing ‘THE SOUND OF MUSIC’. Why did he decide to throw away that tradition? Who knows.

Before the show a group of high schoolers, who had obviously just performed their version of the show were in the Palace Theatre’s grand lobby. There they were with their duck-tailed haircuts and poofed hair, dressed in what must have been their production’s costumes, looking like and acting like what they were expecting on stage. “Who’s playing me,” the Danny Zuko-look alike asked? Unfortunately, no one really played the youth. From what I saw and heard in the lobby, I would have preferred seeing their production.

Capsule judgement: The quick in-and-out five performance schedule for this the umpteenth touring production of the show is now gone. It’s publicized “hottest ride in town” turn out to be a slide through a script and music that was not given its due.