Dec. 10 2008 12:00 AM

Malt-shop shock ’Grease’ slides by on style, songs



It’s understandably difficult to make too many changes to a show as inured by pop culture as “Grease.” Heck, the opening bars of “Summer Nights” are practically ingrained in the DNA of anyone born after 1970. But for a show that’s all about saying bye-bye to the conservative sensibilities of yesteryear and embracing the audacious liberation of a new era, this production is about as antiquated as a malt shop.

For the few out there who are unfamiliar, this is the popular ‘70s-era show, which was set in the ‘50s, that was revived in the ‘90s and hitched up to a reality TV show in the ‘00s. This time around, the touring Broadway production is traveling with a set that looks like it was designed for a middle school show and features the winner of a completely different reality show popping out of an ice cream cone for a one-song cameo.

A musical this disjointed, sloppily executed, tonally scattered and utterly undaring has no right to still be called good, but somehow it still is. You forgive the missed lighting cue, because they had a pretty sweet car in “Greased Lightning.” Sure, a member of the crew crawled onstage to adjust a set piece that missed the mark by a few feet, but Emily Padgett, as Sandy, hits all the right notes on “Hopelessly Devoted to You.” And yeah, the sound went totally buzzy at one point during this opening night performance, but the reprise of “We Go Together” is still a rousing finale.

The showstoppers don’t stop the show, but they certainly come in at the right time to provide a little resuscitation. The energy of “Born to Hand Jive” and “Those Magic Changes” should spill off the stage and flood the audience with double-time momentum. Alas, they merely stir things up before letting everything settle back down again. But those actors, bless their hearts, keep you engaged.  

Eric Schneider’s Danny makes up for a lot of what’s wrong here. He prowls the stage like a tiger, oozing hip-swiveling sexuality and convincingly eliciting swoons from the bobby-soxers and Pink Ladies alike. Michigan writer/actor/director Dominic Fortuna, as Vince Fontane, is all ducktail and kick-ass, but loosen up buddy, you look a little stiff out there. Allie Schulz has the pipes for Rizzo, but her stage direction consists of basically stalking from one side of the stage to the next and back. And where do we start with Taylor Hicks? You won the TV contest, OK? A harmonica does not belong in “Beauty School Dropout.”

Note to parents: lest your memories of this show enshrine this as a golly-gee fun nostalgia trip, remember there is swearing, multiple lewd sexual references and minor profanity littered throughout. Oh, and for some reason the director decided having the actors smoke real cigarettes was a good idea.

Through Dec. 14
7:30 p.m. Wednesday & Thursday
8 p.m. Friday
2 p.m. Friday & Saturday
1 p.m. & 6:30 p.m. Sunday
Wharton Center
1 (800) WHARTON