BWW Reviews: Overly Wholesome and Character Free GREASE at 5th Avenue

The cast of Grease at the 5th Avenue Theatre
Photo credit: Mark Kitaoka

Jim Jacobs and Warren Casey's musical "Grease" is so much more than just a collection of doo wop numbers. It's a group of teens finding their own identities at a time when teens were finding identities much different from those of their parents. Or at least it should be. Unfortunately the current production at the 5th Avenue Theatre has been scrubbed clean and is so devoid of any individual or realistic characters that any emotion or meaning that might have been elicited from the story is now gone. But they sing pretty.

For you purists out there you may be wondering which version of "Grease" you're in for, the original stage version or the movie version each with their own song and script choices. Well this is more of a hybrid. The majority of the alternate movie numbers are there in addition to a few stage ones but, for example, the boys are not the T-Birds as they were in the movie but have jackets emblazoned with "BP" on the back which indicates they were the Burger Palace Boys. A nod to the original show that I had to look up online which is just the first of many odd choices for the show since no one really remembers that change and I wondered during the entire show what "BP" was for. British Petroleum? Blood Pressure? Baby Punks? That last one may be truer than you know but we'll get to that.

So most people know the story (as it has been told before). Innocent Sandy Dumbrowski (Solea Pfeiffer) has moved to town and begins school at Rydell High School where the school is run by the coolest girls, the Pink Ladies and the toughest boys, the Burger Palace Boys. But she soon finds that the nice boy she met over the summer, Danny Zuko (Bryan Gula) is the leader of the Burger Palace Boys and is very different from the sweet boy she met when around his friends.

So sure it's the same story but director Eric Ankrim has seemed to have instructed the cast to force all of their dialog and songs in such an upbeat and mugging way that it resembles more of what Disney might put out if they animated "Grease". And because everyone is so forced, the characters all come across as one-note and lose any kind of emotion, nuance or arc their characters may have had. And without that, the story is lost and they might have well have just done a concert of the music. Also lost are any of the relationships. I never once saw an ounce of chemistry from any of the couples so when they spurn each other there were no repercussions. And when you have a stage full of such incredibly talented performers why limit them to one trick. Speaking of one trick, the choreography by Chryssie Whitehead seemed to be limited to variations of hip shakes for the girls and pelvic thrusts for the boys and the 50's and 60's had so much more to offer than that.

OK so onto their one trick, the singing, since I cannot speak to the characters. For the most part the vocals are there. Gula and Pfeiffer have powerful voices although I question Pfeiffer's choice of putting Beyonce style runs at the end of each number. And Gula looks to be the least threatening, most innocent and innocuous Zuko I think I've seen. But then none of the BP Boys came across as much of a "gang". Kirsten deLohr Helland has a great voice (we all know this) and manages some emotion in her 11 o'clock number "There Are Worse Things I Could Do" but with the lack of connection with anyone or character, by that point the feeling is lost. Kyle Robert Carter has a fun moment as Teen Angel but it seemed just a moment as the entire number felt like a rushed through afterthought. And I have to give kudos to Patrick Shelton as Roger who had a quite powerful and clear voice and made his songs come alive.

So we have a mish mash or choices between the movie and stage version, no real connection with anyone on stage, and forced and mugging characterizations making this production just kind of an unfocused mess. "Grease" may be the word but the only word I'm coming up with is NAH from my three letter rating system. This Disney Cartoon of "Grease" does no honor to the show.

"Grease" performs at the 5th Avenue Theatre through August 2nd. For tickets or information contact the 5th Avenue Theatre box office at 206-625-1900 or visit them online at www.5thAvenue.org.



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From This Author Jay Irwin