BWW Reviews: Girls Outshine the Boys in City Theatre's GREASE
GREASE plays The City Theatre at 3823 Airport Blvd in Austin, TX 78722 now thru September 15th. Performances are Thursday - Saturday at 8pm and Sunday at 5:30pm. Tickets are $25 general, $15 students, and $15 Thursday. For tickets and information, please visit www.citytheatreaustin.org
It's no secret that the musical Grease has reached cult classic status. The movie in particular is a massive hit, and the stage version is a favorite of regional theaters. It's no surprise then that the current production at Austin's City Theatre is playing to packed houses and receiving standing ovations. People love this show.
But even cult classics can't rest on their laurels and depend on their inherent popularity. In order for a production of Grease to truly succeed, it must be fun, lighthearted, and a little cheeky, but it also must bring out the story and the characters. Grease is really about one thing: the relationship between guys and girls. As high school age greaser Danny and squeaky clean Sandy try to define and navigate their relationship, their friends all partner up as well and all have similar issues with first love. Sure, there are a few other things thrown in, like 1950s nostalgia and a couple of rather thin subplots, but ultimately the story is a rom com of teenage puppy love and how it affects a group of friends. For rom coms to work, the audience has to fall in love with the characters well before they fall in love with one another. That seems to be the major problem with the City Theatre's production of Grease. While you easily fall in love with the girls, the guys (with an exception here and there) struggle to earn the affection of the audience. Add to that one of the weakest books in any hit musical, and Grease becomes a mixed bag of missed opportunities.
That's not to say that there aren't any bright spots in this production. Indeed there are. Bert Flanagan's costumes are colorful, splashy, and fairly period appropriate. The unit set by Andy Berkovsky is delightfully cartoony and retro. While the intimate nature of the City Theatre's stage may provide several limitations, Rose Mitchell is nonetheless able to provide the show with some strong and intricate dance numbers. Several of the actors also manage to produce memorable performances. As Sandy, Sarah Reynolds is appropriately cute, sweet, and wholesome, and she clearly has fun with her character's eventual raunchy, sexy turn. Lauren Forman's take on Jan is incredibly comical, particularly her awkwardness when it comes to the opposite sex, and her Act II number "It's Raining on Prom Night" showcases her wonderful voice. Kimberly Wilson is fantastic as the ditzy, boy crazed Marty. She may be vain, shallow, and a gossip, but you can't help but love her due to Wilson's dedication and commitment to the character. And as Rizzo, Megan Ortiz is remarkable. She may be tiny, but she packs a wallop. Ortiz takes the bad girl archetype and gives her depth and emotion, particularly in the show's final scenes. She also possesses an incredible set of pipes and sells her numbers "Look at Me, I'm Sandra Dee" and "There are Worse Things I Could Do" for all their worth.Of the guys, there are a couple of standouts as well. As Sonny, Isaac Arrieta is the most polished and energetic of the boys, and his vocals on "Born to Hand Jive" are fantastic. Kirk Kelso is also quite memorable in his dual roles of Teen Angel and Miss Lynch. As Teen Angel, he leads the number "Beauty School Dropout" with a certain easy coolness, and as the wound-up English teacher Miss Lynch, Kelso gets plenty of laughs.
But in spite of all of the elements that work in this production, there are a few flaws that limit the show's success. While Grease is a classic, it is by no means a well-written one. The book, by Jim Jacobs and WarRen Casey, says nothing good about any of its main characters. All of the boys are juvenile delinquents who are squarely focused on stealing hubcaps and getting laid, and the girls don't have many redeemable qualities either. Marty is a gold-digger who practically hunts older men, Frenchie is a dropout (and by the way kids, if you drop out of school you will be visited by a Teen Angel), Rizzo has a pregnancy scare, and Sandy feels that she must turn herself into a tramp in order to attract a guy who in reality has nothing to offer her. In addition to issues with the characters, the book has some major issues regarding its structure. It's incredibly clunky and doesn't flow well. Many scenes do nothing to move the plot forward and are clearly intended to set up a song. For example, in one scene the boys steal hubcaps from a piece-of-junk car. The car turns out to belong to their pal, Kenickie. When the guys tease him about the car, Kenickie says it could be "Greased Lightning." A song ensues, and shortly after the scene ends with no advancement of the plot.