Before Glee, Grease was the word.
Though Fox may have television’s biggest sitcom hit on its hands, Matthew Morrison, Lea Michele and company by no means invented testosterone-laden high school angst rendered musically in cool threads. That distinction belonged to Jim Jacobs and Warren Casey, who decades ago hit upon the winning formula that made GREASE (now through Sunday at the Music Hall) one of the longest-running hits on Broadway.
It’s all there. High school hotties fret over which boy will ask them out and how far to go when he does. Dudes in disrepute ache to be cool in the mucky microclimate that permeates grades 9 through 12. Actors look about ten years older than they’re supposed to be. And everybody sings and dances the hell out of the production numbers.
I’m happy to report that the touring company of GREASE playing the Music Hall– while missing the bells and whistles that a million GLEE bucks buys every week (when have you EVER seen that level of lighting and staging outside William McKinley High?)– gets the most out of the well-known musical’s happy go lucky score. Interpolating several tunes from the movie version (the title song, "Hopelessly Devoted," "You’re the One That I Want," and "Sandy"), the GREASE gang does plenty of rock and rolling before the night is through.
Matt Nolan and Alyssa Herrera play cute as teen heart throb Danny Zuko and new girl in school Sandy Dumbrowski. As in every production of GREASE, the real goods belong to Betty Rizzo; and Lauren Elaine Taylor makes an excellent Rizz, showing us tough and tender as she caroms through her teen travails. The rest of the guys and gals — particularly Marc Winski as Doody and Ashley Rubin as Frenchy– keep things light and fun. And boy can they sing and dance.
That’s where the line between GLEE and GREASE is fuzziest. Though some of the book scenes in GREASE just lie there, the ensemble numbers really move. Kudos to choreographer Joyce Chittick; when she’s at work, the show really takes off, just like the big numbers in GLEE elevate that show beyond a 21st Century "Saved By the Bell." It’s too bad that infectious spirit doesn’t suffuse the rest of the show; but not to worry– most of the night is spent singing and dancing up a storm.
Speaking of dancing, top cast Eddie Mekka gets things going early and keeps up the frenetic beat in his too-brief stage appearances. The "Laverne and Shirley" vet who jitterbugged up a storm with Madonna in "A League of Their Own" shows he still has what it takes, worming his way across the stage as sleazy DJ Vince Fontaine. Badda bing indeed.
Technical credits were fine; some nice 50s design touches make Jan’s Rec Room and the Burger Palace special. I thought the sound mix was a bit shrill, though you could hear everything just fine. Lots of moving lights punctuated the beat of the oldies-inspired score. All in all, it was nice to revisit the Fabulous 50s.
How long til Finn and Rachel (or Puckerman and the big bruiser chick) knock off "Summer Loving" on GLEE? Only a matter of time. Til then, you’ll have to get your fill at GREASE.