Review: Grease – it’s still the one that I want

In an effort for full disclosure, I need to tell you I am a Greaser.  I love this musical so much I have a copy of the original 1971 script tucked safely away in a box under my bed.  So imagine my delight when Broadway Across Canada announced Grease as their 2010/2011 season opener, now on stage at the Queen Elizabeth Theatre through Sunday. 

And while the classmates from Rydell High are back to tell their story of life, love and drive-ins, with all the energy of the high school students they portray, this production seems to have lost the individual characters and their stories in what at times felt like a concert version of the musical.  I longed for a connection to these beloved characters that never quite materialized.  Don’t get me wrong, the show is still a great deal of fun, but for me that fun lacked the depth of previous productions (and, dare I say it, the movie).

Leading the cast are Matt Nolan as Danny who some might remember as a finalist from the NBC reality show “You’re The One That I Want” and Alyssa Herrera as Sandy.  Both Nolan and Herrera do a good job here but for me it was Lauren Elaine Taylor as the tough-as-nails Rizzo and Audrey Filson as the eternally optimistic Patty Simcox that did the best jobs of the evening.

Of course, the marketing machine behind this particular tour is highlighting Eddie Mekka, the Big Ragoo of Laverne and Shirley fame, playing the dual role of DJ Vince Fontaine and Teen Angel.  In a first for me, Mekka actually took to the stage as a “warm-up” to talk with the audience, sing the L&S theme song and teach us the hand-jive.  While not my cup o’ tea, the audience on opening night appeared to have a great time of it.  Mekka can definitely sing but he was lost somewhat in the hand jive contest that opens act two but fared much better in “Beauty School Dropout”.

The Cast of Grease.
Matt Nolan as Danny and Alyssa Herrera as Sandy (center),  and the company of Grease. Photo by Joan Marcus.

Within a sea of eternally recognizable songs, it was “Greased Lightnin’” that rightfully steals the show; get that one wrong and you’re in trouble.  It was also nice to see a little razzle-dazzle theatre magic as Kenickie’s junkyard convertible is transformed, especially amongst the simple set pieces and painted backdrops that gave the show an overall low-budget feel. 

Along with the lack of character connection, the challenges of mounting a touring show like this were very much evident last night at the QET with dancers not always finding their mark because they are on a new (smaller?) stage and a few notes missed because the sound hadn’t quite been perfected yet in the new house.  And while I am the first to appreciate the daunting logistics of designing a show that can be easily transported and used within a variety of venues, the fact still remains theatre-goers are paying good money to see the show (tickets here can set you back over $100).  We know that it is possible to give audiences their money’s worth as we just saw it can be done with the last Broadway Across Canada production, Disney’s The Lion King.

While perhaps not the strongest production of Grease I have seen over the years, with its energy and easily recognizable songs, it isn’t hard to see why this show remains such a crowd pleaser. 

Oh Grease, even when you’re not at your best I am still hopefully devoted to you and you continue to be the one that I want.

3 Out of 5 Stars  Grease
Queen Elizabeth Theatre
26 – 31 October 2010

Tickets are avaialble at all Ticketmaster outlets, charge by phone 604-280-4444 or online ticketmaster.ca

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