From the original 1972 Broadway premiere, to the 2016 Grease Live TV broadcast on FOX network, the story of Rydell High seem never cease to entertain the American audience with its timeless energy and passion. As the grand finale of Pittsburgh Musical Theater’s 2016 “Magnificent Movie Musicals” season, Grease brings the long-awaited summer nights back to the Steel City with those classic ’70s tunes and exciting rock n’ roll.
Written by Jim Jacobs and Warren Casey, the show follows high school teenagers Danny Zuko and Sandy Dumbrowski as well as their boy gangs or lady squads as they navigate the realities and complexities of growing up. The stage version is a lot different from the 1978 hit film starring John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John as more songs were included and familiar songs were sung at different scenes. But overall the story and themes stay the same.
Leading the Burger Palace Boys is Point Park alumnus Mr. Ricky Gee who played Danny with a toned-down personality. The chemistry of the character didn’t really sparkle until later but Mr. Gee’s vocal and dance moves surely held the summer heat through the very last scene. His love interest Sandy was played by Ms. Lara Hayhurst who portrayed the classic “girl next door” with such a freshness and a beautiful voice. Her solo number “Hopeless Devoted to You” would make you sing “Oh Sandy” in a heart beat, and her strong spirit and “spicy” transformation in Act II is easily the momentum that drives the show upward.
But the true stars of this show are the secondary characters. Ms. Larissa Overholt played Rizzo with a sharp edge and tender emotions. Her squad, the Pink Ladies, has the best dynamics whenever they are on the stage together, and her 11 o’clock number “There Are Worse Things I Could Do” was easily the most tear jerking moment of the night. Black horse of the show goes to Mr. Quinn Patrick Shannon and Ms. Audra Qualley who played Roger and Jan and stunned the audience with their shinning duet “Mooning”. Another highlight is Doody played by Mr. Adam Marino whose “Those Magic Changes” is full of magical charms. And last but not least, honorable mention Mr. Brady D. Patsy, who played Miss Lynch as the comic relief of the show and took home the most laughs of the night.
Originally inspired by writer Jim Jacobs’ own high school experience in Chicago, Illinois, Grease was much more violent and explored darker themes during some of its early productions before the 1972 Broadway premiere. But over the years the story has been sanitized many times and eventually made more family friendly for the movie version. For this production Director Trey Compton tended to bring back some of the edgy elements while keeping the overall entertaining feeling, but because the stage version already didn’t have some of the climatic scenes in the movie, overall the plot felt bland and weightless. All of the big character moments and tense scenes eventually lost to the waiting for the next audience-familiar song.
However, because most of the songs in Grease are so well-known, every number felt like a sing-along. Music Director Dr. Brent Alexander did a great job with the orchestra; you could just feel the hype in the house whenever the music started playing again. And this energy is only amplified by Ms. Lisa Elliott’s electric choreography, integrating car tires and those good old hand jives.
Tech design of this show turned out to be my favorite memory of the night, if not the best of the season. Ms. Kim Brown once again wowed the Pittsburgh audience with costumes that stole the spotlight. Mr. Todd Nonn’s dreamy lighting proved that he’s the true “Greased Lightnin'”. Mr. Jeff Perri’s brilliantly designed backdrop made of school lockers combined with colorful patterns will make your inner teenage self feel like it’s prom night with every set change. And finally, when all tech aspects came together in “Beauty School Dropout”, you will realize that this is the true magic change that made you fall in love with Grease in the first place.
Whether you’re a fan of the original movie, or just love wearing leather jacket, Grease is the word! It might not be your everyday high school romantic musical comedy, but a night that ends with “happily ever after” is always guaranteed, only this time it’s “a-wop-bam-a-loo mop and top bam boom”!
Special thanks to Pittsburgh Musical Theater for complimentary press tickets. Grease runs at the Byham Theater through Sunday May 1st. Tickets and more information can be found here.
Photo by Rockhan Photography