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BWW Reviews: Entertaining Version of GREASE at The MUNY

There have been a lot of versions of Jim Jacobs and Warren Casey's (book, music and lyrics) Grease that I've seen over the years. Only one, New Line Theatre's brilliant staging a few years back, actually adhered to the musical as originally conceived. The majority have followed the template laid down by the 1978 movie version that was tailored to fit the stars; Olivia Newton-John and John Travolta. That's the version currently gracing the stage of The MUNY, although it features a number of interesting changes, beginning with a choral version of the opening "Alma Mater" that actually utilizes the lyrics to the song "We Go Together". It's certainly an entertaining ride, and is much improved in many ways over the version staged here back in 2007.

Sandy Dumbrowski and Danny Zuko meet over summer vacation and fall in love. They part ways only to unexpectedly bump into each other at Rydell High. Danny tries to play it cool to impress his friends, but he only manages to put a chill in his and Sandy's relationship. He tries to prove himself to her by joining the track team, and she decides to tart up her image in order to win him back. In other words: boy meets girl, boy loses girl, and boy gets girl back, following one of the standard musical styles. But it's also an effective satire on late 1950's cultural mores.

Taylor Louderman has an exceptional voice and does splendid work as Sandy, knocking one out of the park with her rendition of "Hopelessly Devoted to You" (written by John Farrar), while Brandon Espinoza is slightly less successful as Danny, re-working some of the melodies (particularly "Summer Nights") in order to better fit his vocal range. Arianda Fernandez does solid work as the salty Rizzo, and Drew Foster is fine as Kenickie, although his singing on "Greased Lightning" was drowned out by the musical backing (where's the orchestra for this show?). Larry Owens is terrific as Roger and really shines during his ode to "Mooning", adding some sparkling falsetto to the ending which drew a warm response from the crowd. Teressa Kindle makes an impression as the Teen Angel, and the change in gender for the character is certainly unexpected. Matt Saldivar is sharp as DJ Vince Fontaine, and Sarah Meahl stirs the pot as the fiery Cha-Cha Di Gregorio. Other standouts in support include: L'ogan J'ones as Sonny, Tyler Bradley Indyck as Doody, Natalie Kaye Clater as Marty, Amelia Jo Parish as Jan, Madison Johnson as Frenchy, Rhiannon Hansen as the overzealous Patty Simcox, Sean Seymour as the nerdy Eugene, and Phyllis Smith as Miss Lynch.

Denis Jones does good work directing and choreographing this version of the show, making sure that the numbers are staged to take full advantage of the MUNY kids and the vast expanse he has to work with. Timothy R. Mackabee's scenic design is cleverly conceived to allow smooth transitions, and Matthew Young's video designs add a dimension of notable kitsch to the proceedings. Andrea Lauer's costumes capture the feel of the period, and Michael Horsley's musical direction is occasionally inspired. Nathan Scheuer's lighting sometimes leaves characters in the shadows, while Jason Krueger's sound design doesn't always allow the vocals to cut through like they should so that the lyrics retain their clarity.

If you're a fan of the film version, then I'm sure you're going to find plenty to love about The MUNY's intriguing production of Grease. It continues through August 8, 2014.

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