Regional Reviews: San Francisco
Grease Is A Slippery Production
Also see Richard's review of American Buffalo
The perennially popular musical Grease has slid into the Orpheum Theatre for two weeks only. Presented by Phoenix Productions, this Jim Jacobs and Warren Casey musical is an American phenomena that just seems to go on forever. Grease first opened on February 14, 1972 off Broadway at the Eden Theatre. It ran 128 performances. The rock 'n' roll '50s piece then moved uptown to the Broadhurst Theatre. The amazing production ran a total of 3388 performances, moving to two additional Broadway Theatres. On December 2, 1979 Grease passed Fiddler on the Roof as Broadway's longest running show with its 3243rd performance. The musical finally had to close prematurely on April 11, 1980 because of a New York 11 day transit strike. I saw the original at the Broadhurst with Barry Bostwick as Danny and Carole Demas as Sandy. Adrienne Barbeau played Betty Rizzo. Jeff Conaway, who later became popular in the television series Taxi, was one of the members of Burger Palace Boys.
Grease became a big hit movie with John Travolta, Olivia Newton John and Stockard Channing in 1978. The Weisslers brought it back to the Eugene O'Neill Theater in 1994 and even had the front of the building painted a shocking pink. It ran an astounding 1505 performances. I saw someone called Rosie O'Donnell as Betty Rizzo and the wonderful Marcia Lewis as Miss Lynch. The current touring production of Grease lists as its star the '50s singing sensation Frankie Avalon, who reprises his role as Teen Angel, the same role he performed in the movie version, singing the hit song "Beauty School Dropout."
Of course, the main story is about the relationship of Danny (Jamey Isenor) and Sandy (Hanna-Liina Vosa). There are the Pink Ladies: fun-loving Jan (Kristen Bedard), man-loving Marty (Kristen Allyn Michaels), aspiring hair stylist and color tinting specialist Frenchy (Sarah Hubbard) and Rizzo, their world-weary ring leader. The Greasers consist of the self-assured Sonny (Danny Smith), Kenickie and Doody (John Ashley and Craig McEldowney, both excellent singers).
This Grease seems to be a little raunchier then prior versions. One of the Greasers hides a lit cigarette between his buttocks as one of the other group says "Is that a cigarette butt I see?" Ryder High also seems to be a very small high school now, since the musical has been scaled down for the tour.
Some of the high school students look as if they have been there for many years. Jamey Isenor has a great voice, especially in the number "Alone at a Drive-In Movie," which incidentally is one of the better scenes. Unfortunately, he looks like he should be a phys ed teacher rather than a student. Hanna-Liina Vosa, who hails from the Baltic country of Estonia, makes a nice "Sandra Dee" character. She does a good rendition of "Since I Don't Have You". Jacqueline Colmer seems a little too old to be playing Rizzo. She looks more like a teacher of girl's sports at the high school.
The choreography is strictly '50s with the basic steps that were in the film version. The big number, "We Go Together," at the end of the first act is well done with all of the "kids" dancing in block form and clicking their fingers as they advance to the front of the stage.
The "star" of the show, Frankie Avalon, is really a walk on. He comes out toward the end of the production acting like Carol Channing in the big Hello, Dolly number. You first see him in silhouette at the top of the steps and then he descends, dressed all in white with theatre fog covering the stage, and walks toward Frenchy. Mr. Avalon is still in fine voice as he enters his senior years. It's a hammy performance but fun.
Grease's singers and dancers give their all at the end of the musical by redoing some of the major songs. There is a real jive fest on the stage as the cast members take their bows. Finally, Frankie comes out and jokes about being with Dick Clark as the world's oldest teenagers. He then goes into a medley of his hits including, "Venus," "Ginger Bread" and "De De Dinah". Basically, he does a 10 minute night club act with the cast sitting on the props and sets in the background. Frankie then says "goodnight" and the cast walked off the stage.
This road show version lacks a certain zip and style. The fake Brooklynese accents are very hard to understand in this barn of a theater, especially with the Pink Ladies. The men have better theatrical voices.
Most of the sets are flats with memorabilia of the '50s hanging on the sides and top to the proscenium stage. Musical director and arranger Steven M. Bishop has done a great job with the orchestra. They have the '50s beat down pat.
Grease runs through January 26 at the Orpheum Theatre. Tickets can be obtained through ticketmaster.com, at all Ticketmaster ticket centers and at the box office of the Orpheum Theatre located at 1192 Market at 8th. San Francisco. Ticketmaster phone number is 415-512-7770.