Review: The Muny's 'Grease' is a Slick Ride
The Muny rolled out “Grease” last week with a big, slick production designed to please the masses, and it did. The cast and chorus hand-jived their way through big and small song and dance numbers on a set featuring bleachers that turn around to reveal school lockers, a traveling bandstand and a pretty cool Greased Lightning convertible. The show was more of a stage version of the movie rather than the original stage play—as it almost always is these days—but beyond causing a little initial disappointment, the sheer force of the Muny’s production won the day.
It’s clear which version of the show the Muny is doing from the introductory preamble, when the “Alma Mater Parody” is sung with cleaned-up lyrics (as are the other songs in the show) rather than the original sharp, sarcastic ones. If there’s any doubt remaining, it is quickly followed by that atrocity, “Grease is the Word,” from the movie, not the play, and later we’ll hear the disco number, “You’re the One That I Want,” Olivia Newton John’s canned hit “Hopelessly Devoted,” and most unfortunately, the song “Sandy,” sung by John Travolta in the film, replaces the far superior “Alone at Drive-in Movie.” “All Choked Up” is missing too. But the musical “Grease,” with book, music and lyrics by Jim Jacobs and Warren Casey, was fundamentally changed by the movie, thanks in large part to the gall of those new songs becoming hits, and if this is the version you must see, you can’t do better than the spirited romp the Muny is presenting.
Taylor Louderman plays Sandy, the quintessential “good girl” who falls for “bad boy” Danny Zuko, played by Brandon Espinoza. Their great duet, “Summer Lovin,” shows off the talent of the pair, and they’re backed up by a talented cast. Drew Foster plays Kenickie with swagger and delivers a satisfying performance with “Greased Lightning,” and Arianda Fernandez’s Rizzo is tough, but her heartrending, smoky rendition of the Chanteuse ballad, “There Are Worse Things I Could Do,” dripped with emotion.
Also notable that Teen Angel is played by Teressa Kindle who delivers a vastly different “Beauty School Dropout” to Madison Johnson’s Frenchy. It’s good luck this performance happened at the Muny; if it was indoors it would have blown the roof off the place. The rest of the cast deliver on their songs as well. Tyler Bradley Indyck with “Those Magic Changes,” Natalie Kaye Clater’s “Freddie My Love,” and Amelia Jo Parrish and Larry Owens’ comical “Mooning.” Even Phillis Smith, “The Office” star and former St. Louisan, gets down with Matt Saldvar as Vince Fontaine on “Hand Jive.”
Ultimately, there’s lots to admire about the Muny production of Grease. Director/Choreographer Denis Jones has included some fun choreography and some great staging, notably during “Those Magic Changes” when the scene “fills in” around the guitar-playing Indyck by moving set pieces, a traveling bandstand and more. Michael Horsley directs the orchestra. The big screen was again used very effectively, following its successful and imaginative use in both “The Addams Family” and “Suessical.”
No matter how much you clean up the lyrics, you can’t escape the fact that the show’s grand climax—the moment we’ve all been rooting for—is when the good girl decides to go a little trashy. That moment when she casts off the shackles of midwestern sexual repression and trades her poodle-skirt for shiny, super-tight, uber-sexy slacks could serve as a metaphor for the show itself; the original version of the show—which is certainly more raunchy—is buried somewhere inside this version. From a producer’s point of view, the new version, with its famous movie-songs, probably puts more butts in the seats, and there are lots of seats. The Muny’s production is good too, and if they can pull in and entertain a “Grease” traditionalist, it must have a lot going for it.
“Grease” continues at the Muny through Friday, Aug. 8. For tickets and information, visit the Muny website.
Follow Christopher Reilly on Twitter @ChristoReilly