Wednesday, June 23, 2004

Grease (Cain Park)

‘GREASE” greaseless at Cain Park

‘GREASE,’ the stage musical, opened in 1972. It was an instant hit with a 1950s rock n' roll score and a hokey story about greaser high school kids finding friendship ("rama lama lama") and romance ("ka dingy dee ding dong!"). The show ran 3,388 performances which set a new record as Broadway's longest running show. This distinction it held until ‘A CHORUS LINE’ surpassed it in the 1980s.

The 1978 screen version became the highest-grossing musical in Hollywood history. A 1994 Broadway revival ran for 1,503 performances. A favorite with community theatres and school groups, the show remains one of the most popular musicals of all time.

Interestingly, ‘GREASE’ was the only successful theatrical project by co-creators Jim Jacobs and Warren Casey.

So, what’s all the excitement about? Picture the’s 1959...the time of poodle skirts, pony tails, white t-shirts with the sleeves rolled up and a pack of cigarettes mounted inside, d-a haircuts, slicked-back hair, souped up cars with fuzzy dice hanging from the rear view mirrors and class rings with angora wrapped around the shanks. It’s the time when schools were populated by greasers, goody-two-shoes, jocks and nerds.

Unfortunately, the Cain Park production, under the direction of Eric van Baars misses much of the era. The costumes aren’t era correct, the hairstyles aren’t era correct, and the dance moves aren’t era correct. But the major problem is that the characterizations aren’t era correct.

In order for ‘GREASE’ to be the classical musical that represents the 50s, the cast must not be playing at being greasers, nerds and goodie-two-shoes, they must be greasers, nerds and goodie-two-shoes. Don’t blame the generally talented cast for their foibles. They are clean-scrubbed suburban 2004 kids. They needed to be told about the era so they could emulate it. That’s the responsibility of the director. And, obviously, van Baars didn’t help them out by being their guide to the past.

There are some good individual presentations. Kenny Lear sings the role of Roger well. Chris Thomas gives a polished singing performance as Teen Angel. His falsetto ending to the song brought down the house. Meg Cavanaugh sings the role of Rizzo effectively, but fails to develop the hard-edge needed for the school tramp. Paul Harris, portraying Doody, is a great dancer but only a mediocre singer.

In the major roles, Keith Faris, who has a nice singing voice, appears too old for the role of Danny. His nice-guy good looks don’t translate into the smoldering sensuality needed for the role. Michelle Scully makes a pretty Sandy, but, as with the rest of the cast, misses developing a clear characterization. Alex Puette and Khalida Sims display a lack of understanding of the pivotal roles of Eugene, the nerd and Patty Miss school spirit.

CAPSULE JUDGEMENT: ‘GREASE’ at Cain Park is a major disappointment. Don’t go expecting the excitement of the movie, or getting a true vision of the ‘50s. Too bad. Eric van Baars had the opportunity to create a fun and flashback evening, but didn’t achieve the task. On the other hand, if you just want to scream praise for a bunch of kids who try hard, you might like the production.