BWW Reviews: GREASE Offers a Nostalgic Look at 1978
The 2007 Broadway revival of Jim Jacobs and Warren Casey's Grease added four songs written for the musical's movie version. You might say that Paper Mill's buoyant and polished new mounting, which utilizes that revival's script, adds a fifth. I won't spoil the surprise for you, but it certainly solidifies the fact that Grease on stage has become more about nostalgia for the 1978 film than for the era it depicts.
Which is a shame, because the grittier, more authentically 1950s version of Grease that opened on Broadway in 1972 is far more interesting than the watered down family friendly innocuousness that wears the musical's moniker today.
Nevertheless, director Daniel Goldstein and a fine company of actors deliver a solid and enjoyable evening. The simple Boy Meets Girl/Boy Ignores Girl/Girl Changes Herself To Meet With Boy's Approval plot is little more than a connect-the-dots between songs that (in the case of the original score) salute the various shades of popular music that were invading the airwaves and record stores during Eisenhower's second term.
Goldstein's cast plays for refreshing realism, highlighted by the pairing of Taylor Louderman as Sandy, the transfer student desperate to fit in with The Pink Ladies, and Bobby Conte Thornton as Danny, the hotshot greaser leader of the Burger Palace Boys trying to downplay his affection for Sandy in front of his buddies. By playing it straight and sincere, the adolescent awkwardness of the characters gives the musical a bit of endearing depth.
Two-time Tony Award nominee Robin de Jesus offers a terrific mix of streetwise toughness and starry-eyed youthfulness as Doody, singing a sweetly-voiced "Those Magic Changes."
Morgan Weed's dry-humored and emotionally guarded Rizzo, Tess Soltau's charming gold-digging Marty, Telly Leung's swoon-worthy Teen Angel and Dana Steingold's hilariously cutesy Frenchy are all memorable turns.
The flashy, bubble-gum visuals by Derek McLane (sets), Martin Pakledinaz (costumes) and Charlie Morrison (lights), JoAnn M. Hunter's energetic choreography and music director Brad Simmons' on-stage band help add to the swift-moving production.
This version of Grease may not be the one that everyone wants, but playgoers with fond memories of the film looking for a night out with (or without) the kids should have a great time.