I feel it’s best for all of us if we forget the television travesty that was Grease: You’re the One That I Want. So, I offer my sincerest apologies for bringing it up once again. For those of you lucky enough to have missed it, the 2007 reality show had young actors and actresses competing to portray the lead roles of Danny Zuko and Sandy Dumbrowski in the Broadway revival of Grease. The entire endeavour was a creative sellout and the eventual production, featuring winners Max Crumm and Laura Osnes, was largely panned by most major Broadway critics.
Upon learning that the touring role of Danny Zuko was being played by Matt Nolan, a finalist from that show which shall-no-longer-be-named, I didn’t harbour much hope for the success of this show. So, I was pleasantly surprised by his performance on the opening night of Grease at the Queen Elizabeth Theatre.
For most Grease fans, Danny Zuko will forever be indelibly tied with John Travolta’s film portrayal and everyone who has played Danny since must endure the inevitable comparisons. Matt Nolan embodied the too-cool-for-school attitude of the character without trying to mimic Travolta’s mannerisms. Nolan was extremely likable; an overgrown kid not entirely sure of himself.
The same can’t be said of Alyssa Herrera’s Sandy. Herrera suffered from a severe lack of stage presence and she struggled to stand out from the chorus.
The secondary roles of the T-Birds and Pink Ladies were all played adequately, though none of them really delivered anything special.
Though touring shows aren’t expected to measure up to Broadway standards when it comes to sets and costumes, this production really fell short of the mark. Some of the sets looked like hastily-painted cardboard backdrops, while the costumes in the opening looked similarly cheap.
I was a bit underwhelmed by the whole thing, until some of the bigger dance numbers. Joyce Chittick’s choreography was slickly executed and helped lift the show from its inauspicious beginning.
This current production also incorporates some of the more popular songs from the movie that weren’t originally part of the stage version including “Grease (Is the Word)” and “Hopelessly Devoted to You.”
Some of the grittiness and more mature bits have either been glossed over or removed entirely. In the song “Greased Lightning”, lyrics have been changed from “the chicks will cream” to “the chicks will scream” and “pussy wagon” is now “draggin’ wagon.” Rizzo’s second-act pregnancy scare is brushed off as no big deal. Though, in fairness, it can be hard to remember that these twenty-something actors are all supposed to be playing teenagers.
But, no one has ever accused Grease of trying to be serious theatre. On opening night, the theatre was laden with patrons of all ages, many of whom were avid fans of the movie. At several junctures throughout the show, I could hear audience members singing along with their favourite songs. The appeal of Grease isn’t in its barebones plot; it’s in the nostalgia and the catchy songs. And on that count, Grease more than delivers.