"Grease" Review - A Return to Chicago

Not everyone likes a love story. They can come across as too sappy, too long, too unreal; however, add a group of stunning high school guys in tight t-shirts that are more interested in their locks that seem kept up with a whole bottle of gel that treat their automobiles as their companions and incorporate them with a classy and witty close group of high school girls that sometimes reveal too much for the imagination, love stories can win over both sexes of various generations. Director Randal Keiser did just that with his 1978 film Grease and now this musical has come to Chicago.

Unfortunately, I need to advise you not to expect a spectacular performance. Although it was enjoyable and fun, nothing compares to the classic film. The acting was a little off in my opinion. I would liked to have seen Rizzo be snootier with a more careless attitude. What I saw on stage was an actress just acting. This was true of most of the characters. Patty Simcox’s character wasn’t nearly as annoying as she was in the film.  For all of you who have seen the film Grease, I am sure you would agree there was something missing about her. The annoying personality of Patty Simcox really makes a difference. Not only would it bring a little humor to the show, but it was hard to know who which of the girls  were part of the Pink Ladies. Patty Simcox is supposed to stand out as the outcast and that wasn’t clearly displayed on stage. Sandy’s perky personality didn’t show as much in the beginning, but her part did eventually achieve that compassionate, adoring Sandy we all know and love.

The performers were not the whole story, though because the producing seemed to be lacking also. Some of the scenes just didn’t flow well and could have benefited from a little more creativity. For instance, if you can remember the movie, after Danny and Sandy sing “Summer Nights”, they don’t meet each other until a couple of scenes later. In the  Grease performance  at the Auditorium Theater, Danny and Sandy meet right after their duet on the steps of Rydell High. With the small size of the scene, the unconvincing acting, and the rush of Danny and Sandy’s relationship, I found it ackward and too planned.

Speaking of ackward, I wonder if Sandy’s character felt the same way during the school prom. Sandy didn’t even attend prom but still managed to have a part on stage. Here, the producers had Sandy lay alone on a couch that was positioned on the side of the stage where she sang a duet with Pink Lady  Marty, who was an attendee at prom, called “It’s Raining on Prom Night”.

Rizzo’s solo song, “Look at Me, I’m Sandra Dee”, also was out of place compared to the film version. The song in the film appeared at the Pink Ladies slumber party but the producers of the theater musical replaced this familiar song with a number called “Freddy, My Love” which tells about Marty and her love overseas. The problem with this is there was no significance of her love, Freddy. It was irrelevant and the song wasn’t even momorable.

This performance was not completely negative. I enjoyed the charismatic scene of the T-Birds singing “Greased Lightnin”. Danny Zuko’s wingman, Kenickie was appointed to lead the song which is a change from the original film. I felt it made more sense that they chose Kenickie since it’s his car and he was so passionate and optimistic about it. It was well and accurately developed with a group of guys that kept their vocals in tune, and was one of my favorite scenes.

The scene of Teen Angel was close behind though. Any fans of the popular show American Idol will remember the name Taylor Hicks, who was the fifth season winner of the show in 2006. Taylor brought a roar to the audience when he magically appeared in the air on a mechanical device that lowered him to the ground to sing a song offering advice to Frenchy called “Beauty School Dropout”. Taylor was another of the few cast members that made my ears dance and sent a chill through my body while he sang and pulled out his iconic harmonica. The audience was swept away by his instrumental talent.

It’s not a surprise though that the musical fell flat again with a humiliating finale. Usually I’m enthused by the last scene where all the cast members come together with harmonic vitality. Unfortunately, I was  distraught and distracted by Taylor Hicks who seemed uncomfortable and out of place. All of the choreography at the end reminded me of ants scurrying away from their hill when attacked by a predator. Screeching ants at that, which is the way I would describe most of the singing.

Grease is not a show I would recommend  but there are many other choices that are likely to fulfill your expectations for theater here.


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