Thursday, April 22, 2010
Back in 1978, my Dad took my friends and I to see the movie Grease. Little did I know that I would never be the same. I'm not kidding, my friends and I fell in love with this movie. I wanted to be like Olivia Newton-John. While I looked nothing like her (I wasn't blonde, beautiful, couldn't sing, plus I was only seven years old!), my friends and I pretended to be the Pink Ladies, and argued over who got to be Sandy. When we played Grease, we would break into song like the characters in the movie. We played the soundtrack over and over again until it was scratched. We debated over whether we liked the "old" Sandy or the "new" Sandy better. My bedroom was wallpapered with Grease posters. When the sequel Grease 2 was released a few years later, it was a colossal flop at the box office, but we loved it! Yes, Grease was the word.
Fast forward to April 2010. Thirty-two years after I first saw the movie, I went to see the stage production of Grease at the Canon Theatre in Toronto. The 2010 version of Grease is the second revival for the Jim Jacobs and Warren Casey musical, which was first performed back in 1971. I never saw the original stage production, but I understand it was different from the film. So, I expected this production to be different. I wasn't quite prepared, however, for exactly how different the musical would be.
The play attempted to combine aspects from both the original play and the film, but failed to effectively connect the pieces. Four songs from the film were woven into the 2010 musical: "Hopelessly Devoted to You," "Sandy," "You're the One That I Want," and the title song. The stage production took big liberties. Many details of the plot were changed - they kept Sandy at home during the big dance-off (a pivotal plot point for the movie), changed characters' names, and sang "Look At Me I'm Sandra Dee" at the bleachers with the T-Birds, rather than at the slumber party. It just felt strange and didn't work.
Most of all, the play failed to properly create a relationship between Danny and Sandy. As an audience member, I didn't empathize with the characters, and didn't see why they belonged together. There was little, if any, back story. It was almost as if it was expected that the audience would already be familiar with the story. Josh Franklin, who played Danny, was good at showing Danny's vulnerable side, but the tough guy T-Bird that John Travolta played was missing from this production. Sandy was played by Lauren Ashley Zakrin. Her performance was OK, but she just didn't quite pull it off.
The play did have some entertaining moments, and after a slow and disappointing first Act, the second half picked up. American Idol winner Taylor Hicks was cast as the Teen Angel. He was the star of the show, and did a good job with his song "Beauty School Drop Out," though his performance was a little campy for my taste. Frankie Avalon he wasn't, though he was fun. Hicks' harmonica added a great touch to the song. He also performed a song from his new CD after the show, and I really enjoyed the impromptu concert.
While Grease lacked in plot and character development, its strength was in the music. The songs sound just as great now as they did back in 1978. The dance-off scene was memorable, mainly because of Vince Fontaine, played by Dominic Fortuna. Fortuna also warmed up the crowd before the show, and gave the play a much-needed boost of energy. Franklin's rendition of "Sandy" was great also, and one of the best numbers of the play.
I left the Canon Theatre that night feeling a little lukewarm about the whole experience. Grease wasn't horrible, but it certainly disappointed. Oh well, I have my DVD to watch if I ever want to go back to 1978. ;)