Wednesday, August 22, 2007
Look at Me, I'm Fifty-Three
"At this evening's performance, the cast of Grease! will be played by the parents of the cast of Grease!" That should be the pre-curtain announcement every night at the Brooks Atkinson Thee-A-tah. I saw the show last night, and it totally lived up to my expectations, which is a shame. When I think of a Broadway revival of Grease, I like to remember the 1994 production, which featured the likes of Sam Harris, Billy Porter, and Megan Mullally. A supporting cast so strong and so unique, they could afford to stick Rosie O'Donnell up there, singing the 11:00 number. I get the feeling that in this case the idea was to go with a weaker group of secondaries so as not to steal shine from the show's amateur leads, who won their roles on an NBC reality show, on which the grand prize was to star in this revival. (I personally would have chosen whatever was behind Door #2.)
The winning Danny is Max Crumm, who received a thunderous ovation upon making his entrance, as though he were Dame Julie Andrews returning to the stage for a concert performance at Carnegie Hall. (I did not participate.) If you watched the TV show, you'll know that Max was not the obvious choice to play Danny Zuko. It sure is a nice idea to have the underdog win the part and give the guy a shot to play the leading man for once. Losers all over America ate it up. But when you're actually sitting in a Broadway theatre watching him do the job, you begin to second-guess your compassion and human kindness. (After "Summer Lovin'", a few people in the audience began feverishly text-messaging NBC, trying to change their votes, but by then it was too late.) You cheer him on as you would your retarded best friend in middle school, playing the clarinet at a class assembly, because he's slightly charming and seems like a sweet guy. But as Danny, he blends right in with the scenery and has less sex appeal than a hubcap.
Laura Osnes scored the part of Sandy. I liked her well enough. She's a cute little actress with a lovely voice, and that's really all one needs to pull off that role. (I speak from personal experience, of course.) However, for the big finale, she makes a terribly anticlimactic entrance as Sexy Sandy, and the gasp heard from the audience is not one of excitement for her victorious transformation, but of shock and horror for the hideous sequined number she's just quick-changed into, which makes her look more like Aisle 9 of a Party Supermarket in Jersey.
Rizzo is played to aged imperfection by the matronly Jenny Powers. She channels the character by squinting her eyes through the entire show, (which I have to assume is cataracts), and might be the most notably miscast actress onstage. Her performance of "There Are Worse Things I Could Do" is reminiscent of Elaine Stritch's rendition of "The Ladies Who Lunch". (At one point, I turned to my date for the evening and asked, "did she just say 'flirt with all the guys', or 'everybody rise'?") And toward the end of the show, when Frenchy probes her about not getting her "monthly visitor", I'm sure I wasn't the only one in the audience who thought menopause long before I thought teen pregnancy.
It's no secret that Grease has a pretty weak book. We let it go, 'cuz.....it's Grease. But a great production should be exciting enough to distract from its shortcomings. This current one, which is as generic and obvious as it can be, almost accentuates them. The sets and costumes are no more thrilling than I've seen in any high school or community theatre over the years, and although the other T-Birds and Pink Ladies all hit their marks, I don't think one of them delivers a stand-out performance. (Not to mention, most are a bit long in the tooth.)
And clearly, the producers have chosen to completely absolve themselves of the responsibility for any of this. Continuing with the theme of the reality show, which allowed its television audience to cast the winning votes, the marketing campaign for this particular revival has the slogan, "GREASE!...The One That YOU Want!" stamped on everything attached to it, to serve as a constant reminder that this is all OUR fault! What a cute way of putting the blame on America for creating a flop. There's even a huge, brightly-colored disclaimer on the marquee outside the theatre that reads, "THE ONE THAT YOU WANT!" What it should say is, "YOU'VE DONE THIS TO YOURSELVES. DON'T LOOK AT US."
I will admit that it's nice to see these two kids getting the chance to live their dreams, especially if you watched the audition process on TV. It's like the Make-a-Wish Foundation working its magic on Broadway, and you can't help but be happy for them. If you enjoy the music and story, as many do, and wanna see some cute chorus boys try to hand jive without chipping their freshly polished fingernails, by all means see this latest production of GREASE!, sponsored by Lipitor.