Grease, Book, Music and Lyrics by Jim Jacobs and Warren Casey, additional songs by John Farrar. Directed by John Saunders.
Reviewed by J. Peter Bergman
Meghan Glogower, Scott Wasserman, Kelsey Self and Charles South; photo provided
"Totally devoted to you."
Grease is a fun show - always has been, always will be. Its characters were instant classics when they first trod the boards, are immortalized in film and appear quite regularly in revivals all over the map. Sometimes the map is rocky and sometimes itís flat and sometimes the hills and valleys of the show are harmonious and provide clarity with humor. In the case of the Mac-Haydnís current production there is a bit of all three landscapes to deal with.
This production has a terrific look. Jimm Halliday gives his usual great costumes and the lighting by Kevin Gleason is just about perfect for this show. Laura Brignullís set is a bit crude, but the show can tolerate that. John D. Smith does a fine job as musical director and the choreography by Brian Knowlton works remarkably well in the restrictions of the circular stage without enough room to accommodate the complete company.
John Saunders direction of the show does as much to halt it in its tracks as it does to keep it moving at an acceptable pace. Too often the rhythms seemed awkward and slow. Something just didnít jell in the playing of the scenes that did work in the musical numbers. Sadly this play is as much a play as it is a dance show. When characters are trying to communicate they need the force and direction that it takes to make that happen and this seemed to be lacking somehow. I donít know how. People were in the right place at the right time. The words came out as written, I believe. Maybe it is this: teenagers age when they hit their twenties and these twenty-somethings had aged into mature tempi in their performances. Perhaps that was it, something that simple. Whatever it is, the show suffered from it and not even the energy of the dancing could make up for the sluggishness that comes with not being totally in the moment, completely in the character. Just because the story is silly and songs are rock and roll parodies doesnít mean this is easy theater, after all. Itís not. Itís hard.
Particularly good in their roles were Scott Wasserman as Doody whose song "Magic Changes" was wonderful, Meghan Glogower as Frenchy whose diverse looks were perfect for her continual growth as a character and Ryan Green as Sonny, smarmy and predictably warm. Also fine as Miss Lynch was Carol Charniga who turned in a perfectly delightful performance as the teacher/administrator who longs to be a part of the student body herself. Corey Masklee was a brightly amusing Eugene and Joshua Phan-Gruber did a lot with his Kenickie, especially in his relationships with Betty Rizzo, played wonderfully by Carman Napier and with his car. He made the "Greased Lightning" number one of the best on the Mac-Haydn stage. Napier sings a killer "Worst Things I Could Do." Less successful were Danny Zucco and his ladylove Sandy as played by Charles South and Kelsey Self. Self was a dark-haired, lifeless broad who even in the finale didnít inspire much lust or love or anything else. Somehow she and her role never jelled and result was darkly colored water, not pretty or attractive and not musically interesting either. South, on the other hand, could sing brilliantly and move very very well but still watching them was like watching an accident on the highway: fascinating but you wanted to keep a distance between you. These people need to be compelled toward one another and we need to be compelled in their direction, jointly. That element was missing from the show and where the problem lays I cannot truly say. And, by the way, Sandra Dee - often referenced in regard to Sandy - was a pale-shade-of-yellow blonde. That could be the simple problem.
Itís hard to go wrong with Grease. Not an easy show, but if you cast it right you have a hit on your hands. This production is mis-cast and more. What might have worked just didnít and it would seem that the director is at fault for some of the problem. Resident season casting accounts for the rest of it.
Grease plays at the Mac-Haydn Theatre on Route 203 north of Chatham, New York through August 14. For information and tickets call the box office at 518-392-9292.