Now playing at Drury Lane Theatre in Oakbrook Terrace, IL, director/choreographer Paul Stancato’s vision of Grease is a powerhouse celebration of great music, dance, and fun. You’d have to be dead not to have a good time. And honestly, if there are spirits after death, they’d probably enjoy it too.
Grease is a musical that almost everyone knows. The show about high school kids exploring love and other emotions in a comical way started life at Chicago’s Kingston Mines nightclub in 1971 and quickly captured the nation’s attention. Featuring a catchy rock n’ roll score and memorable characters, Grease was repackaged for Broadway, premiering in New York in 1972 with Barry Bostwick leading the cast as super cool greaser Danny Zuko and Adriene Barbeau as bad girl Betty Rizzo.
EVERYONE HAS FUN
The fun, high-energy musical was created by Jim Jacobs and Warren Casey and ran on Broadway until 1980, then had successful revivals in 1994 and 2007. Hollywood took notice and adapted the musical into one of the most popular films of all time.
Released in 1978, the film version of Grease starred John Travolta as Danny and pop singer Olivia Newton-John as his love interest Sandy. Interestingly Henry Winkler was the studio’s first choice for the romantic lead of Danny Zuko, but he turned the part down because he feared it was too similar to his role of Fonzie on the TV hit Happy Days and didn’t want to get typecast.
The story starts with the first day of school for the senior class at fictional Chicago high school Rydell High. Danny Zuko and his best friend Kenickie lead a small gang of greasers that includes “King of the Mooners” Roger, baby-faced Doody who dreams of being a rock star, and big talk but little action Sonny.
Ruling the female population at the school are the Pink Ladies, led by Betty Rizzo. The girl gang includes food obsessed Jan, would-be beautician Frenchie, and hot stuff Marty who is always trying desperately to appear more mature than she is.
Over the summer, Danny had started a romance with Sandy Dumbrowski, a young beauty he met at the beach. The couple never thought they’d see each other again, but Sandy’s father transfers her to Rydell at the last minute – creating a surprise reunion. There’s only one problem – Sandy is the ultimate good girl while Danny has a carefully sculpted bad boy image to maintain at school.
Will their love survive and conquer their differences? It’s a musical comedy about high school kids; of course, it has a happy ending. The fun is in the songs and dances that get us there.
TOO COOL FOR SCHOOL
The lineage of actors to play Danny Zuko on stage includes Patrick Swayze, Richard Gere, Treat Williams, Peter Gallagher, Ricky Paull Golden, Jon Secada, Rex Smith, and Adrian Zmed. Interestingly, Jeff Conaway who played Kenickie in the movie played Danny on Broadway at the same time John Travolta was playing the supporting character of Doody.
My own relationship with Grease began with a fascination with the film as a youngster. I was approached about taking over the role of Danny in the Jeff Calhoun directed 1994 Broadway revival. We got pretty serious in our discussions, but I ultimately decided to take a chance on a little show called Tony n’ Tina’s Wedding instead.
One of the things affecting my decision was that I was very young and most of the Broadway cast were much older. I feared I wouldn’t blend, especially in a role that is supposed to be a dominating presence. I did end up playing Danny later in life at an age when I felt I could do it justice, and I also directed the show a few times.
So as both a director and performer, I am very aware that the film adaptation of Grease is still so popular that it has tattooed permanent expectations of audiences going to the theatre. The film replaced several of the songs from the Broadway show and Patricia Birch created very distinctive choreography.
Every director mounting a production of Grease must weigh the question of how much effort should be made to staying true to the original Broadway script versus how much effort should be allotted to incorporating elements of the film. And every director is going to have a different answer for that.
For this production, Stancato has incorporated a lot of elements from the movie including adding the songs Grease, Hopelessly Devoted to You, Sandy, and You’re the One that I Want. They are good songs and are performed well, but it is disappointing that three of the best songs from the stage show ended up getting axed to make room: Alone at the Drive in Movie, It’s Raining on Prom Night, and All Choked Up.
The choreography is definitely influenced by the movie. Stancato does a tremendous job of taking Birch’s style from the film and adapting it for the stage. He sets the stage perfectly for success. It then becomes the task of the cast of singers and dancers to make it come alive. And the super talented cast of Drury Lane’s Grease is very much up to the challenge of creating a magical experience.
With heartthrob, brooding good looks, phenomenal singing, and sensual dancing, Jake Dimaggio Lopez is the coolest guy in the room every time he appears. He plays Danny a little younger than most interpretations, which is enjoyable and unique. When he sings and dances, he is absolutely amazing.
Emily Schultheis made her Broadway debut in Cameron Crowe’s Almost Famous prior to tackling the role of Sandy at Drury Lane. With sparkling features and a thrilling voice, Schultheis is clearly in her element in the spotlight, especially in song.
A SHINING STAR
Like the role of Anita in West Side Story, Betty Rizzo is a supporting role that with the right actress can steal the show. I have seen some very talented actresses play Rizzo, but I have never seen anyone play the role so perfectly as Alina Taber. Her singing is excellent. Her dancing is excellent. Her acting is stunning. She achieves things with the role that I never even thought of before. Alina Taber is simply marvelous.
Rizzo’s boyfriend and Danny’s second in command, the role of Kenickie fits Billy Rude like a glove. His rendition of Greased Lightning is one of the strongest moments in the show. He is at his best when he lets loose and starts to riff later in the song.
Among the other members of the Burger Palace Boys (the stage production’s name for the gang the film renamed the T-Birds), Nik Kmiecik is just plain awesome as Roger. I love his interpretation. Ben Dow is also a standout as Doody, and Jordan Arredondo fills the bill as Sonny.
The Pink Ladies are a strong group of actresses. Elizabeth Stenholt is a delight as Jan, Ciarra Stroud is strong as Frenchy, and Anna Louise Bramlett does an excellent job as Marty. Each one finds their own opportunities to shine.
Also worth mentioning, August Forman gives us a Eugene who is more awkward than nerdy, showing that being different isn’t necessarily a bad thing and that everyone has their own charm. I think that is a good message in today’s day and age. Also, Evan Tyrone Martin’s velvety smooth voice as a Motown inspired Teen Angel is just heavenly.
Music direction is by Michael McBride who has created some very creative harmonies and arrangements in cooperation with music arranger Carey Deadman. Wigs by Emily Young are impressive and scenic design by Jeff Kmiec creates a nice playing field.
Grease plays Wednesday s and Thursdays at 1 PM, Thursdays and Fridays at 7 PM, Saturdays at 3 PM and 8 PM, and Sundays at 2 PM and 6 PM. The musical runs through June 4th. Drury Lane Theatre is located at 100 Drury Lane in Oakbrook Terrace.
For tickets and additional information visit www.DruryLaneTheatre.com
Box Office: (630) 530-0111
Photo credit: Brett Beiner Photography
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