And that's really the only problem with this production, which bounces across the Keller stage from last Tuesday night through Sunday, April 26 as part of the Fred Meyer Broadway Across America series. Although the gritty stage musical about Rydell High's star-crossed lovers has been around since 1971, its the 1978 Lycra and leather movie hit that most everybody knows—and sings along to—best.
No worries, all of the movie's songs have been added to this happy, shiny, new stage revival—appearing along with a bunch of tunes, from "Those Magic Changes" to "It's Raining on Prom Night," that fans will recognize from the film soundtrack (psst: they're from the original musical). Be forewarned, your favorites may show up at different times in the stage show than you expect. Blame the movie. It's what moved the raunchy favorite "Sandra Dee" from the football bleachers to the bedroom.
The show actually starts before the house lights dim, with WAXX radio DJ Vince Fontaine (Dominic Perkins), he of the slicked back pompadour and sparkly pink jacket, enlists the crowd to sing along to "Runaround Sue" and do the Twist and the Swim. It's goofy and silly and fun, and that mood is carried through on stage by a cast that is uniformly bubbly, cheerful and blessed with voices big and brassy enough to give Frankie Avalon a run for his money.
Although leads Eric Schneider and Emily Padgett moon and croon Danny and Sandy's ballads with aplomb, its tough not to compare them to their movie predecessors. Padgett battles comparisons by playing Sandy more geeky than angelic, her clear voice hitting each syllable of her beloved lyrics like she's performing an oral exam. Schneider goes a more relaxed route, his face crumbling as he sings his stranded at the drive in ode to Sandy. Sadly though, at times he seems to play it so cool that it looks like he's simply doing a walk-thru of some of the dance number choreography.
It's the dual gangs of the T-Birds and Pink Ladies that really push the musical to its most charming heights: Standout moments coming from porky Roger (Will Blum) and Twinkie-obsessed Jan (Bridge Carroll), while as Marty, Kelly Felthouse deliciously channels every breathy blonde bombshell squeak and shimmy invented from Marilyn to Paris Hilton.
Unless you're illiterate and blind, you already know that the production has been sold the past few months as starring American Idol Season 5 winner Taylor Hicks, his open, smiling mug and salt-and-pepper coif gazing out from every surface available. In truth, Hicks plays Teen Angel, who has less than five minutes of stage time in Grease. Luckily, when you're make your entrance from the inside of a giant, floating ice cream cone, time stops. The crooner seems to be having a ball as he vamps through his single song, "Beauty School Dropout," even tossing in a hip shake and a eyelash flutter for good effect. His voice is a knockout—as is his suit, adorned with silver-spangled angel wings. And if you didn't get enough of the Hicks, stick around after the cast takes its final bow. In an epic (and, frankly, tasteless) bit of cross promotion, the Idol winner actually sings his new adult contemporary-ish single "What's Right Is Right" at the end of the show. I like him better as Teen Angel.
Ultimately, Grease is exactly what one would hope to be, a fun compilation of '50s schmaltz and sweetness—although at two and a half hours, that much happiness is a little exhausting. One quibble: for the life of me I can't tell you why some of the stage show's most memorable lyrics have been scrubbed cleaner. Kenickie now thinks that "the chicks will scream for Greased Lightning" instead of "cream." Also, the car is no longer a "real pussy wagon." Why omit these dirty lyrics when Rizzo chastises Kenickie for instigating a "gang bang" two minutes before the song starts? All I know is that it totally puts the breaks on a rowdy audience sing along.
And that's what we're all here for, right?
Grease plays at the Keller Auditorium, 222 SW Clay St., 241-1802. 7:30 pm Wednesday-Friday, 2 and 7:30 pm Saturday, 1 and 6:30 pm Sunday, April 22-26. $23.50-$68.50.
Production shots by Joan Martin courtesy of greaseonbroadway.com.
Psst: Here's the dirty-awesome film version of Greased Lightning. Enjoy.