‘Grease: the Musical!’ is screen to the stage done right
Charlie Kenney | Friday, March 24, 2017
Converse. Record players. Jeans. Handkerchiefs. 1950s music. Hipsters, right?
All of those things, although they can be used to describe your friendly neighborhood hipster, also describe “Grease – the Musical,” which is currently being performed at Washington Hall.
The musical, an adaptation of the iconic 1978 blockbuster movie, has all of the best parts its cinematic predecessor has and more. It’s got “You’re the One that I Want,” its got “Greased Lightning,” its got “Summer Nights” and its got that quirky contrast between rough leather-jacketed characters and mellow brightly dressed characters that we’ve all come to know so well. It’s got everything your parents probably shoved down your throat when you were younger, but it’s also got a little bit more that you can spit in their face. It’s got a couple more songs, its got some scenes that weren’t in the movie and — most importantly — its got people that live within five miles of you taking on the roles John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John became synonymous with on the silver screen.
The cast from Notre Dame, Saint Mary’s and Holy Cross takes the classic and brings it home right with familiar faces. They don’t just bring it home, however; they do it immense justice along the way.
They take all of the songs that have become pillars of every throwback sing-a-long playlist and breathe new life into them. The choreography of all the dancing is done incredibly well to fit the small stage in Washington Hall, all of the soloists and background singers execute everything from a song about notes on a guitar to a song about a hand jive almost to perfection, and the instrumental music accompanying the voices never misses a beat and is never dull — especially if you’re into ‘50s and ‘60s music.
The intermittent scenes of acting shine just as much as the singing portions. The “greasers” sound like jerks when they’re supposed to, the Pink Ladies sound snobby and offended when they’re supposed to, the voice of radio show host Vince Fontaine sounds just as cheesy as you would imagine it to be and even though it takes place in ‘50s California, the New York accents that the whole cast seemingly has in both the movie and musical are spot on. Even when the acting is overdone — as it often is in theater — the cast manages to make the moments funny and almost sarcastic, never leaving the audience a dull moment to roll their eyes.
Aside from all this, however, the cast and the director, Sam Squeri, take a twist on the musical that was not even seen in its performance on Broadway. Squeri and the cast recognized that the movie about the ‘50s written in the ‘70s needed a little bit of a makeover. They recognized that although the movie tells an enthralling story with phenomenal music, it often descends into casting its characters into prejudices that are still present. In order to combat this problem they give “each character more agency in their decisions as both young men and women” Squeri said, and in doing so are able to highlight and deal with numerous issues that are present in the cinematic and prior Broadway portrayals of the musical. They make Sandy more confident, they make Danny more of a softie and they make all of the characters a little less sexist — all things that are realistic and, although they may have been met with protest back in the ‘50s or ‘60s, they are just what the musical needs today.
The show has realistic acting, catchy songs sang by actors with voices that will make you want to listen, directing that makes you forget you’re in Washington Hall, people you know playing the characters you have come to know so well and it’s socially sensible. What more can you ask for in a musical?
“Grease” is showing each night at 7 p.m. in Washington Hall from Thursday to Saturday. So, if you want to have one of those rare weekend mornings where you wake up and feel good about yourself then, as Danny Zuko says in Act 1, “See you there … sexy.”