Monday, August 27, 2007

Grease (The SOB Review)

Grease (The SOB Review) - Brooks Atkinson Theatre, New York, NY

*1/2 (out of ****)

Turns out the reality show casting of Max Crumm and Laura Osnes was the least of Grease director Kathleen Marshall's problems.

Given the fact that the stage version of Grease is really more of a vignette-heavy ensemble piece with nominal leads, the truth is, Crumm and Osnes are just fine.

While their talent suggests that they could very well be more than just a flash in the pan, the accompanying Grease has lost its sizzle and relevancy.

Yes, Marshall has tried her best to give this a fresh kick. Her trademark choreography helps, especially in frenzied, spirited numbers like "Summer Nights," "Greased Lightning" and "Born To Hand Jive."

But in an age when messages are emanating throughout Broadway about the importance of being true to yourself and embracing who you are -- whether through the green power of Elphaba in Wicked or the triumphant self-love of Celie in The Color Purple or even in the omigod girldom ode of Elle in Legally Blonde (not to mention throughout theatres nationally via the highly successful High School Musical tour) -- the underlying message in Grease sets women back fifty years.

And the worst part of all this? It's clearly being marketed as a family musical. The SRO audience during my performance was about half pre-tween.

No matter that Grease was written by Jim Jacobs and Warren Casey in the pre-AIDS hedonistic halcyon days -- Rydell High's students are freely imbibing, chain-smoking, graffiti-desecrating and backseat-carhopping without any consequence (in stark contrast to this year's Tony-winning Best Musical Spring Awakening). Sure, there's the moment where Betty Rizzo thinks she's preggers, but it turns out to be a false alarm. When originally penned, the tuner was aimed squarely at those who lived through the period. Now it's aimed at those who aren't yet capable of having one.

There are worse things the show can do, and it does. It tells the prepubescent girls in attendance that if you want to keep your guy, you must conform to your boy's ideal as epitomized when Sandy relents to peer pressure in becoming the antithesis of Sandra Dee. What may have seemed satirical just a few short years into the women's liberation movement when Grease first debuted on Broadway back in 1972, now rings hollow.

Contrary to Ben Brantley's brilliantly funny review, the show doesn't look as cheap as he claims (Derek McLane's set design is much more innovative than that offered in Kathleen Marshall's acclaimed retelling of Wonderful Town, and the costume and lighting designs created by Martin Pakledinaz and Kenneth Posner, respectively, serve to enhance the production). It's just that the characters actually are. Cheap, that is. They're all drawn so narrowly that nuance is most definitely not the word for the show.

The largely capable cast does what it can given the material. That includes Crumm and Osnes, who at least look like they could be high school students and hold their own among a sea of decidedly grown-up, standout faces, including Jenny Powers (Rizzo), Matthew Saldivar (Kenickie), Kirsten Wyatt (Frenchie) and Robyn Hurder (Marty).

As noted above, the original Grease was written as more of an ensemble piece. I dare say that without the additions of the film's score -- "Sandy," "Hopelessly Devoted To You" and "You're The One That I Want" -- the characters of Danny and Sandy would essentially have been marginalized.

Regardless of those additions, Grease just doesn't seem worthy of being revived. And that's the word from SOB.

This is Steve On Broadway (SOB).

Click here for Grease tickets.
Related Stories:
How To Get Out Grease (August 24, 2007)
Grease: Slimed By Critics (August 20, 2007)
Tonight, Grease Is The Word (August 19, 2007)
Starring Roles Whether Or Not They're The Ones You Want (August 16, 2007)
Hairspray's Stunt Casting Sticks (August 14, 2007)
Broadway Grosses: Greasing The Skids (August 7, 2007)
Which Upcoming Broadway Musicals Will You See? (June 15, 2007)
Max And Laura Go Together (March 26, 2007)
Behind The Grease Paint (March 24, 2007)
Grease: The Ones That I Want (March 22, 2007)
Apparently Grease Is The Word At Ticketmaster (January 9, 2007)
Sandy And Danny: Who Are The Ones You Want? (January 6, 2007)
The Sound Of Praise (November 16, 2006)
It's A Reality: The Sound Of Music Revival Comes Alive In London Tonight (November 15, 2006)
I've Got Chills, They're Multiplying: NBC Reality Show to Cast Grease (August 8, 2006)

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