BWW Review: Pittsburgh CLO's GREASE a Shoo-Be Doo-Wop She-Bop Good Time
"It's got groove; it's got meaning. Grease is the time, is the place, is the motion." For the Pittsburgh CLO, the star-studded cast of Grease rocks the Benedum and sets the tone for a riveting summer season. With Broadway and television actors flooding the stage, the musical has proven to be a shoo-be doo-wop she-bop good time.
In a way, Grease is the original high school musical. Summer days drift away, and the show opens with the students of Rydell High returning from their summer break. The time is the late 1950s, and societal issues are about to be undertaken by some of these rebellious teenagers. At Rydell, there are two groups of cool kids: the guys being the Burger Palace Boys and the girls being the Pink Ladies.
The Burger Palace Boys are greasers - tall, dark, handsome males wearing leather jackets, tight pants, and slicked-back hair. They are the tough archetypical guys from the 50s, and they're interested in cars, their gang, and of course the Pink Ladies.
Mirroring them are the Pink Ladies. Their group is shaken when new girl Sandy Dumbrowski (Kristen Martin) joins in. Sandy is a transfer student and a goody two shoes, until it's discovered that she has a little more of a wild side; over the summer, Danny Zuko (Zach Adkins) and she had a small but passionate fling. Now interacting with him in his natural environment, will he still be the same Danny as he was in the summer?
Luckily for you, the ensuing two hour journey is filled with familiar tunes like "Greased Lightnin'" and "Beauty School Dropout." Whether this is your first encounter with Grease or you've seen the musical or movie starring John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John dozens of times, the cast of the CLO's production makes the show unique.
As it's written, the musical version of Grease features minimal character development, despite touching on themes ranging from gangs to teenage pregnancy (Yes; this show is still appropriate for all audiences). Its glamour and allure is promoted through its cult following and mesmerizing music that have transcended nearly five decades. With that in mind, the leads of the show made their characters unique with the limited material at hand.
Take Betty Rizzo, played by the incomparable Jackie Burns. She is the leader of the Pink Ladies (Regina George of the Plastics, if you will), and she developed subtle, yet memorable mannerisms, like her incessant gum chewing. More than that, Ms. Burns' tenacity makes focusing on anyone else almost impossible when she's on the stage; and when she's singing, forget about it! It's actors like Ms. Burns that make you wish she had significantly more songs to sing.
Zach Adkins, playing the leading Danny Zuko, displays similar effervescence. Like Ms. Burns, Mr. Adkins stuns when he enters the stage and belts out his heartfelt melodies in "Sandy" and "You're the One That I Want." His cool guy persona is flawless - not over-the-top or underwhelming - but the right amount of suave.
Speaking of things being just right, Clay Aiken as Teen Angel gives a lovely rendition of "Beauty School Dropout." He receives layered applause as he struts across the stage in his pink suit for his cameo appearance. He makes the role his own and adds nuance to his comedic character's brief time on stage.
It's unfortunate that his performance, along with the opening number, was marred by sound issues, however; whether it was the orchestra overpowering the truly excellent vocals or muffled microphones making indistinguishable diction, the sound design in the venue left me wanting clarity during a number of scenes in the show.
On the visual side of things, the costume design left for a visually pleasing and vibrant display of color. The dancing was unique, but also showed similarities to the movie, as well as Broadway revivals. In "We Go Together," hula-hoops are used, as was the case in the 1994 revival. To me, these distracted from the performance on stage and left many questions at intermission.
Aside from the hula-hoops for me, what will be remembered is the sheer talent that came from this production of Grease. From Mr. Aiken to Mr. Adkins, Ms. Martin to Ms. Burns, and everyone in between, the cast of this production transformed an American classic into a unique Pittsburgh experience that will become an individualized memory to all who saw.
To see or not to see score: 6/9; Moderately Recommended Show
Photo by: Matt Polk