The way we were (maybe), recycled again, in 'Grease!'

November 25, 1994|By Mike Giuliano | Mike Giuliano,Special to The Sun

When "Grease" opened on Broadway in 1972, it helped spark a nostalgia craze for the 1950s that has been with us ever since. So it's no surprise that the touring revival of the show at the Lyric Opera House is a well-greased entertainment vehicle.

But a funny thing happened on the way to the '50s. True to the exclamation point added to its title, this "Grease!" is an exclamatory production that is, if anything, even louder and more garish than the burger joints and sock hops it sends up. Not that you'd want a subdued "Grease!", but this one's a bit too much of a live cartoon.

It's also rather funny how our never-ending obsession with earlier and supposedly more carefree decades has become a virtual nostalgia industry. Not only are audiences for this revival waxing nostalgic over their first encounter with a 1972 show that in turn waxes nostalgic for high school life circa 1957, but the production encourages you to return to the 1960s and '70s, too. Whew!

The more recent nostalgic fixes come via Davy Jones of the pop curio group The Monkees as the slick-talking DJ Vince Fontaine, and Sally Struthers of "All in the Family" fame as the whistle-blowing, ruler-waving English teacher Miss Lynch. Bet as many patrons have been lured to the Lyric by these two as by any malt-shop memories.

Whatever has drawn Baltimoreans there, the theater has been packed this week with the sort of 8-to-80 demographic that makes theater business-types salivate. However calculated and overblown this reprise of that innocent we-liked-Ike era may be, the show does tap into the collective memory bank on its way to the bank.

Much of the slick success can be attributed to director/choreographer Jeff Calhoun and production supervisor Tommy Tune. They keep the pace fast and the action nonsensical. Using such period-appropriate objects as car tires and hula hoops, Mr. Calhoun constructs some clever dance numbers. Indeed, his dancers give a whole new meaning to rotating your tires.

All that busyness helps mask the fact that plot was never the strong point of the show. Still, we're meant to care as a leather jacket-sporting greaser named Danny Zuko (Rex Smith) has an improbable romance with a good girl named Sandy Dumbrowski (Trisha M. Gorman).

Both actors are up to their Romeo and Juliet parts, and they sing their duet nicely on "Summer Nights," though Ms. Gorman's voice has some thin and strained moments later in the evening. That we don't care more about their romantic plight isn't unexpected considering the cartoonish world they inhabit.

Similarly, Betty Rizzo (Angela Pupello), the tough leader of the Pink Ladies, has a genuinely affecting solo in "There Are Worse Things I Could Do" that seems nearly surreal in a show otherwise devoid of real emotion.

The only two adults in the show are played by Ms. Struthers and Mr. Jones in self-kidding fashion.

Ms. Struthers' Miss Lynch has a nasal twang and bossy mannerisms that culminate in a humorous scene involving a spiked punch bowl at the prom. Mr. Jones' Vince Fontaine has most of his stage time during a pre-performance gig in which he spins oldies records, invites audience members on stage to dance, and encourages all of us to shout hello to one another. This is a crowd that doesn't need much prompting.

"Grease!"

Where: Lyric Opera House, 140 W. Mount Royal Ave.

When: 8 p.m. tonight and tomorrow; 7:30 p.m. Sunday; 2 p.m. matinees tomorrow and Sunday

Tickets: $27.50 to $47.50

Call: (410) 481-SEAT

** 1/2

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