Sunday, May 14, 2006

‘GREASE’ is an audience pleaser at Carousel

‘GREASE,’ which is now on stage at Carousel Dinner Theatre, is one of the most oft- produced musicals. It has achieved almost cult status, but few realize that it was not an instant hit on Broadway and had a checkered history.

The show opened off-Broadway on February 14, 1972 with Barry Bostwick as Danny Zuko, and Carole Demas as Sandy Dumbrowski. The critics were generally unimpressed, but the public found it satisfying and through word-of-mouth its popularity spread. The result was a run of 3,388 performances. It closed in 1980 and it held, at that time, the record for the longest run for a musical.

Interestingly, the Tony Awards committee ruled the show was ineligible for nominations as the theatre in which it was playing was several blocks away from Broadway. After the producers threatened to sue, the Tony committee backed off and the show was nominated for 9 awards, including best musical.

The show became even more popular when, in 1978, the movie version starring John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John opened. The movie version sugar-coated the class aspects of the original, and subsequent stage productions have played down that aspect of the story even further and emphasized the nostalgia aspects.

Another little know fact is that when the show opened in London, the role of Danny was taken by an unknown actor named Richard Gere.

A Broadway revival in 1994 ran for four years and starred Ricky Goldin as Danny, Susan Wood as Sandy, Rosie O'Donnell as Rizzo, and a pre-‘WILL AND GRACE’ Megan Mullally as Marty.

The show is set in the 1950s, in-and-around Rydell High School, as the students return from summer vacation. The guys are members of the "Burger Palace Boys" and the girls form the "Pink Ladies."

Danny, the quasi-leader of the Burger Boys, returns to school with a tale of the girl he met during the summer, only to find that the girl in question, Sandy, has transferred to Rydell High from the more innocent surroundings of a strict Catholic school. The complications of teen angst play out including a possible pregnancy, going steady, a high school drop out, ear piercing, a personality change-over and the purchase of a clunker of a car entitled “greased lightning.”

The show has a memorable score which includes, "Summer Nights, "Look at Me I'm Sandra Dee," "It's Raining on Prom Night" and "We Go Together."

Several songs--"You're The One That I Want" and "Hopelessly Devoted To You"--were written for the film version, but have been incorporated into many stagings, including the one at Carousel.

Carousel’s production is fine on many levels. The singing, the choreography, the staging, and the technical aspects (except for the overly-amped voices) work well. On the other hand, the cast is generally too old to be playing teenagers. Because they are clean- scrubbed college graduate twenty-somethings, they seem to have difficulty identifying with the greaser guys and unsophisticated young ladies. Thus, caricatures rather than characters resulted.

Highlights of the show included “Shakin at the High School Hop” and “Born to Hand Jive,” production number show-stoppers. The gospel version of “Beauty School Dropout” was delightful. “Mooning” was an audience favorite.

Brunswick High School and recent Baldwin Wallace graduate, Hannah Laird (Jan), Megan Nicole Arnoldy (Sandy), Kevin Smith Kirkwood (Johnny Casino), Jacqueline Colomer (Rizzo), Jason Shuffler (Kenickie) and Kristofer Stock (Rump) gave highlight performances.

The music was well played, but at times was so over-amplified that it drowned out the singers.

CAPSULE JUDGEMENT: Carousel’s ‘GREASE’ is well staged. Audiences will be entertained. Too bad the same quality of singing and dancing couldn’t have been accomplished with a more age-appropriate cast and one that had a better level of identification with the era and its teens.