Jean Gabler: In 1978, the movie Grease was released and became a smash hit at the box office. Two of its songs—“Grease” and “You’re the One That I Want”—went to #1 on the Billboard charts. Before it was a hit movie, though, Grease was a musical written for the stage. A new touring production is currently playing at the Orpheum Theatre.
|grease, presented through january 4 at the orpheum theatre, 910 hennepin ave., minneapolis. for tickets ($26-$76) and information, see hennepintheatredistrict.org.|
Betsy Lofgren: In high school my friends and I were obsessed with the movie version of Grease, starring John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John. We watched the movie dozens of times and had parties where we’d sing along with the soundtrack at the tops of our lungs. My specialties were the Rizzo song “There Are Worse Things I Could Do” and the Sandy part in “You’re the One That I Want.” You can still hear those songs occasionally coming from my shower.
Jean: By now, most people know Grease‘s story. After spending a summer hopelessly devoted to Sandy Dumbrowski, the new girl in town, Danny Zuko’s world is thrown upside down when Sandy appears at Rydell High on the first day of school. The clash between the world of Danny, the leader of the leather-jacket wearing bad boy T-Birds and Sandy, the all-American girl-next-door cheerleader, is dramatized in a rock ‘n’ roll celebration of high school life in the 1950s. In the end, Sandy calls on her beauty school dropout friend to help transform her into a sizzling hot naughty girl to win Danny back. Interestingly, Marie Osmond turned down the role of Sandy in the 1978 movie because she did not like the fact that Sandy had to “turn bad” to get the boy. Betsy and I both agree with Marie.
This new stage production of Grease opened on Broadway in 2007, and it is the first stage production to incorporate songs from the movie—including “Sandy,” the Academy Award nominated song “Hopelessly Devoted to You,” “Grease,” and “You’re the One That I Want.” These songs are featured in addition to favorites from the original stage production—songs like “Summer Nights,” “Greased Lightnin’,” and “We Go Together.”
Betsy: Given how much I love the movie, I was excited to see a stage version of Grease. Although no one will ever touch the inimitable Travolta and Newton-John as Danny and Sandy, Eric Schneider did an admirable job in making Danny a likable jerk. His singing and dancing were quite good, especially in “Summer Nights” and “Sandy.” Two of the Pink Ladies were standouts as well: Kelly Felthous as Marty and Kate Morgan Chadwick as Frenchy created wonderfully memorable characters with wit and style. Marty’s solo on “Freddie My Love” was one of the highlights of the show, and her dancing at the High School Hop was a stand-out. When both Marty and Frenchy were on stage I couldn’t decide which was more delightful to watch.
On the other hand, Emily Padgett’s Sandy blended into the background during nearly every scene where she shared the stage. Her mousy blonde hairdo didn’t help. Sandy’s singing voice was respectable in pitch and range but her delicate, fluttery vibrato was distracting when she sang by herself. She did seem to grow stronger during the show. By the time she came out in the last scene with her new hair and practically painted-on sparkly black pants, Sandy had confidence and sassiness that were missing throughout the first part of the show.
Although Grease provided an enjoyable night overall, it didn’t feel like a Broadway-quality show. Opening with Vince Fontaine in a lame audience participation warm-up was a mistake that took away from the excitement of the event. His singing was fine, but asking people where they were from and making demands like, “If you’re in love, kiss!” was cheesy and obnoxious. The orchestra too was sometimes problematic, and even though it was a small group they sometimes overpowered the singers. Finally, the sets might have been borrowed from a high school production.
Jean: I agree with Betsy about Padgett’s lukewarm portrayal of Sandy. Padgett just did not have the star quality to make Sandy shine. However, I thought the ensemble of male actors who portrayed the T-birds were even better than their female counterparts among the Pink Ladies. I felt that the men’s singing and dancing was energetic and entertaining. I also was disappointed in the sets—what little there was of them.
However, the opening scene where the lockers open and the guys step out singing “Grease” was enough to get the whole audience clapping and cheering and ready for a fun night of entertainment. And the old favorite songs did not disappoint.
Betsy: In fact, I think it’s about time for another party! Who wants to sing?
Jean Gabler is program manager for undergraduate business programs at the University of St. Thomas. Betsy Lofgren is an advisor in undergraduate business programs at St. Thomas.