Monday, January 5, 2009

Grease: (Why Are So Many) Hopelessly Devoted to You? (Part 1)

Some press releases get more press than others. For example, when it was announced that reality show winners Max Crumm and Laura Osnes would headline the Broadway tour of their Grease revival, posted the news with their photos.

It was only after I had bought tickets for me (and two friends) to see the show that I realized plans had changed.

Honestly, I really don't like Grease, and the only reason I wanted to see the tour was for Laura Osnes (who had been my choice for Sandy from her first solo performance). Taylor Hicks was very much not a draw, particularly since I purposely selected a performance where he would not be appearing.

I had liked the movie of Grease as a kid. Whenever it would air, my siblings and I would be at the television, waiting for all our favorite songs. I distinctly recall, however, not being a big fan of the ending. It wasn't the corny car effect I didn't like. It was that slutty Sandy wasn't as pretty as real Sandy.

Times haven't changed. Give me real Sandy any day.

Surprisingly, however, I enjoyed myself at the revival tour. It's been years since I've seen the movie (the viewing when I realized it was just too stupid) and about seven since I saw a high school production. How I managed to enjoy this one, I'm not sure.

What strikes me as so odd about the/this stage version of Grease is how disconnected it is in terms of plot. It was created as a "Hey, remember the good (!?!) old days" reflection, so the emphasis is on recreating moments from the era rather than on telling a satisfying story. You could literally excise most of the numbers and not negatively affect the plot. In fact, the main plot--the Sandy and Danny drama--isn't even well-developed. It is, in essence, Sandy and Danny reflect on falling in love that summer, they meet, they part, they get back together, they part, Sandy becomes a slut, they get back together. That is literally their plot--they get together and part without much conflict or drama or character development.

The show isn't even that funny. It is fair to say that 95% of the humor (a term loosely defined here) is about breasts and erections, most of which you can see coming from a mile (or two or three) off and land with a thud (no matter how talented the actors are).

What makes the show satisfying, if not particularly great, is the music, which is infectious and fun, no matter how superfluous most of it is. The tour cast is particularly talented with some amazing voices among the cast. The inclusion of the songs from the movie--and here I betray my purist soul--are a welcomed addition, since "Hopelessly Devoted to You" helps flesh out the rather bland Sandy character and "You're the One That I Want" is so memorable from the movie.

If you really stop to look at the sets of the tour, it is a pretty cheap show, which was particularly apparent when it was paired in viewing with a regional production of White Christmas. However, I think it's fair to say the show required nothing else. If I was noticing that the sets were nothing special, I wasn't thinking about how much better they could be. Perhaps I was too focused on what is most important, a very talented cast.

It is an exceptional cast. Eric Schneider is a perfect Danny, and if Emily Padgett isn't Laura Osnes, she definitely sings more strongly (though why did they have to make her blonde?). In fact, her "Hopelessly Devoted to You" was 100% Broadway belt and a glorious moment in the show. Taylor Hicks' understudy Preston Ellis proved why Broadway folks belong on Broadway. His golden voice is light years better than Hicks. The rest of the cast are all very talented--Will Blum, Bridie Carroll, Kate Chadwick, Brian Crum, David Ruffin, Allie Schulz, to name just a few.

There isn't much to be said for the staging. There's some energetic, fun choreography, but there's also some muddled staging with the "where am I looking" effect.

If Grease has survived to find an audience with those who don't "remember the good (?!?) old days," it is because the movie managed to make it more about Sandy and Danny than about the era, and the stage show rides the crest of that ever-popular wave. I can't help but watch Grease (a show my mom has said reminds her of her days in high school--is anyone as disturbed as I?) and think, if those were the good old days, the new generation is ten times better!

the Broadway Mouth
January 5, 2009

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