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A CurtainUp Review

Reality Show Casting Is Also the News for the Latest Grease in London
Susan McFadden as Sandy and Danny Bayne as Danny

This is the third major West End production to be cast by the viewing public voting to eliminate contenders from a selection, some of whom are amateurs. I am starting to feel quite cynical about this manipulation of the public to ensure a readymade audience for an old show and I see that the trend is not now limited to London but that New York has undergone a similar exercise to choose the show participants for Grease on Broadway. (See Simon Saltzman's recently posted review below)

The show that results seems to be exactly what the viewing public wants. Having elevated the contenders to the role of celebrities, they take a personal interest in their careers and feel involved enough to buy expensive theatre tickets to see them onstage. But does it make for exciting theatre? Actually No. It is predictably reliable. >Grandmothers will see essentially the show they saw thirty years ago and Grease will score high on the nostalgia quotient and low on the innovative one.

I am starting to see these television cast shows as a sort of tribute show for the original. My hope is that the producers will get greedy, try it too often and kill the goose that lays the golden egg. How long before there are drama colleges which run courses how to be cast on television rather than the time honoured interview/audition approach?

The seven piece band does much to give the show's songs a good musical foundation. I have always enjoyed the "Grease is the Word" opening number and regret that it is so early on in the show. For my money, the fast songs in this show beat the ice cream sundae sweet ballads every time. Arlene Phillips' choreography too makes the most of this exciting number with the whole cast walking forward to this rock and roll anthem. We see the range of high school students, the sporty, the studious, the rockers.

Susan McFadden is ravishingly pretty and actually too nice to be as uptight, priggish and frumpy as the original Sandy is meant to be. Danny Bayne has danced from an early age and he is a very talented dancer who comes into his own as Danny in the prom dance scene with Cha Cha (Olivia Kate Ward). For those of you who were disappointed that Siobhan Dillon didn't get the chance to play Maria, running up in The Sound of Music TV contest, David Ian puts his faith in her and gives her chance. She makes her West End debut here as Patty, one of Sandy's rivals for Danny's affection.

In an attempt to find something new about this production of Grease, I was struck by the truths about men and woman which hold true today—- how men behave in groups and what they say to each other affirming all those Men are From Mars, Women are From Venus revelations of the 1990s. So on that point at least, Grease's theme is not dated. I suppose too the 1950s saw a revival in the male peacock where men found it acceptable to concentrate on their appearance after more than a hundred years since the dandy days of Regency England as the guys spent ages perfecting the quiff.

Susan McFadden's principal talent is as a singer and her delivery of "Devoted to You" hits the high notes perfectly. The 1950s milk bar set is reproduced in perfection with its red bar stools and checked floor but somehow Susan McFadden looks less alluring in the shiny black Spandex than she does in the Doris Day dresses in Sandy's previous prissy incarnation. As with all these popular revivals, there is a generous reprise with full choreography of "Grease Lightning" and "Summer Loving" and the almost inevitable standing ovation which brings more people to their feet, not so much as a statement of admiration but as a practical solution to being unable to see anything other than the rear of the standing person in front.

London Production Details (See Broadway review for song list)
Directed by David Gilmore Cast: Danny Bayne and Susan McFadden; wth Sean Mulligan, Jayde Westaby, Lee Martin, Richard Hardwick, Bennett Andrews. Alana Phillips, Laurie Scarth, Charlie Cameron, Jason Capewell, Tim Newman, Siobhan Dillon, Marie Daly, Olivia Kate Ward, Mathew Croke, Simon Hardwick, Ben Harris, James Rees, Richard Peakman, Paul Riddiford, Danielle Crockford, Amy Jenkins, Helen Morris, Rachel Muldoon, Charlotte Bull, Kirsty McDonald
Set Design: Terry Parsons
Orchestrations: Larry Wilcox and Chris Egan
Lighting Design: Mark Henderson
Sound Design: Bobbi Aitken
Choreographer: Arlene Phillips
Musical Director: Richard Beadle
Musical Supervisor: Mike Dixon
Costume Design: Andreane Neofitou
Running time: Two hours 15 minutes with one interval
Booking to 14th June 2008
Reviewed by Lizzie Loveridge based on 9th August 2007 performance at Piccadilly Theatre, Denman Street, London W1(Tube: Piccadilly Circus) 0844 412 6666

Grease on Broadway

I don't take no crap from nobody.— Sonny
For Fall, Grease welcomed the latest American Idol heartthrob Ace Young as Kenickie
It is consoling that a critic has the opportunity to argue as well as point out that a show's long-standing success or renewable popularity doesn't necessarily determine its value or quality. To the delight of the general public, however, some shows simply defy critical oversight. If they didn't Grease would probably not have survived to any significant degree for the past 35 years.

Despite my continuing indifference (just this side of disdain) for this persistently insipid 50s rock 'n roll musical, the renewed and refreshed revival directed and choreographed by Kathleen Marshall, is probably about as good as it's ever going to get. And, I rather enjoyed some of it. This is not to imply that Tony Award-winner ( The Pajama Game ! revival) Marshall has done anything notably innovative or adventurous with this show to merit our eternal gratitude.

Outside of the attention drawn to the show by its nationally televised auditions, one wonders why it is back on Broadway so soon. There is no denying that the Jim Jacobs and Warren Casey musical found its way into the hearts of many, even as it made its way into American musical theater history. This, mostly by right of its original record-breaking Broadway run (February 14, 1972 — April 13, 1980) of 3,388 performances, a record that would stand until it was overtaken by A Chorus Line! in 1980.

A Broadway revival in 1994 featuring the then ubiquitous Rosie O'Donnell was also a success, playing longer (1,503 performances) than any revival up to that time. This ostensible homage to teens in heat (a far cry from Spring Awakening!) also spawned a highly successful film version that starred John Travolta, Olivia Newton John and Stockard Channing, all of whom were close to twice the age of the characters they played.

The best of the enhancements to this exuberantly danced staging is the addition of songs from the film version—a great idea. Aside from the mind-numbing text, basically little more than lead-ins to the musical numbers, there is the saving grace of the tuneful score. The songs from the film score that are strategically integrated include "Grease," (by Barry Gibb), "Sandy," (by Scott Simon and Louis St. Louis, and "Hopelessly Devoted to You," and "You're the One That I Want," (by John Farrar).

The plot remains focused on the dating rituals of a group of typical high school teenagers during the Eisenhower years. I guess that means that all anyone has on his or her mind is singing, dancing, hot rods and sex. So what else is new? It's not the familiar plot, in which Ryder High's various girl and boy gangs hang out in clicks making crude, rude, and vulgar remarks to and about each other. They are supposed to remind us of what boys and the girls had uppermost on their minds in the 1950s, like making out, breaking up and making up. The authors certainly had their audience pegged. It'a time before racial lines were crossed, a time when the only mix was between the hoods and the nerds, the jocks and the jerks, the sluts and the snobs.

The basic tastelessness of the show seems to have been toned down in favor of a more concerted effort to keep the bouncy songs and energetic dances coming at us with breakneck speed. The songs may be corny and trite, but they do have melody in their favor. The dances may be hokey, but the engaging performers seem to be giving their all to the cause despite the fact that too many look too old for their roles. A minimum of self-mockery in the performances is a plus. Even Susan Blommaert, as Miss Lynch the no-nonsense teacher, offers clues that a human being resides somewhere in the halls of Rydell High.

The two principals, winners of the highly publicized TV show contest Grease: You're The One That I Want, in which performers from across the country tried out for the lead roles of Danny and Sandy, fill the bill nicely without setting the stage ablaze. The production team, after all, was not casting for the next Mimi and Rudolfo. Laura Osnes, who is making her Broadway debut at 21, plays the virginal Sandy who learns how to be popular in her first year at Ryder Highby joining the Pink Ladies, learning to smoke, having her ears pierced (make that one ear), and getting her heart broken a couple of times, as reflected in such endearing treacle as "Hopelessly Devoted to You" and "It's Raining on Prom Night." Osnes is pretty, pert and perky, sings well and offers proof that a summertime romance with Danny Zuko (Max Crumm) has its ups and downs when the school term begins. Mainly, however, Osnes offers proof that performing throughout Minnesota since the second grade has finally paid off.

Crumm, a Los Angeles native, is also making his Broadway debut as greaser Danny, the leader of the gang that call themselves T-Birds. He dances with the spirit of a cool teen and keeps up admirably with the more noticeably dynamic dancing of the ensemble, and his voice isn't bad either. Jenny Powers has a harder time carrying off the blasé Rizzo's sexily insinuated shenanigans, but is redeemed with her amusing take on "Look at Me, I'm Sandra Dee" and with a nicely emotionalized "There Are Worse Things I Could Do." We are certainly as relieved as she is when she announces that her menstrual cycle is back on track. So much for tension.

Standout among the T-Birds is Matthew Saldivar, as the tough-talking Kenickie who revs up his hot rod with "Greased Lighnin'." In this, one of the cleverest numbers, Kenickie's grey old heap of junk is transformed into a shiny red Thunderbird convertible.

Also fine are Jeb Brown, as Vince, who leads the company in a rousing "Born to Hand-Jive" and Jamison Scott as the nerd Eugene. The Pink Ladies, as played with individuality run amok by Allison Fischer, Robyn Hurder, Kirsten Wyatt and Lindsay Mendez, deliver most of the musical's brainless blathering with skill and determination. Daniel Everidge and Mendez are appealing as the "Mooning" pudgy lovers. Ryan Patrick Binder has a fine musical moment when he makes the most of those "Magic Changes" with his guitar. There are laughs generated by "Beauty School Dropout", in which Frenchie (Kirsten Wyatt) and a comely bleached blonde male teen angel (Steven Buntrock) partake in a fantasy amid a bevy of celestial beauticians with their hair in rollers.

Grease happens within designer Derek McLane's colorful yet slightly cheesy looking settings that whimsically evoke such notorious meeting places as the school gym, a burger palace, a drive-in, lunchroom, a bedroom, and street corners. Costume designer Martin Pakledinaz gives plenty of color and flair to the crinoline-supported dresses, carried to most ludicrous extreme by Natalie Hill, as Kenickie's prom date Cha Cha.

By the time, Grease gets to the rousing prom night dance, you will most likely have to admit that there are probably worse things that you can do than get "Shakin' at the High School Hop." A highlight is the band that is perched high above the set and conducted by a vivacious, curvaceous and demonstrably involved conductor Kimberly Grigsby.

Book, Music and Lyrics by Jim Jacobs and Warren Casey
  Directed and choreographed by Kathleen Marshall
Cast: Max Crumm (Danny Zuko), Laura Osnes (Sandy Dumbrowski), Ryan Patrick Binder (Doody), Susan Blommaert (Miss Lynch), Jeb Brown (Vince Fontaine), Stephen R. Buntrock (Teen Angel), Daniel Everidge (Roger), Allison Fischer (Patty Simcox), Robyn Hurder (Marty), Lindsay Mendez (Jan), Jenny Powers (Betty Rizzo), José Restrepo (Sonny LaTierri), Matthew Saldívar (Kenickie), Jamison Scott (Eugene Florczyk) and Kirsten Wyatt (Frenchy); also Josh Franklin, Cody Green Natalie Hill, Matthew Hydzik, Emily Padgett, Keven Quillon, Brian Sears, Christina Sivrich, Amber Stone, Anna Aimee White.
  Scenic Design: Derek McLane
  Costume Design: Martin Pakledinaz
  Lighting Design: Kenneth Posner
  Sound Design: Brian Ronan
  Associate Choreographer: Joyce Chittick
  Orchestrations: Christopher Jahnke
  Music Coordinator: Howard Joines
  Running Time: 2 hours 20 minutes including intermission
  Brooks Atkinson Theatre, 256 West 47th Street – Ticket Master – 212 – 307 – 4100
  Tickets: $121.50 to $71.50
  Performances are Tuesdays at 7 PM; Wednesday through Saturday at 8 PM; Wednesday and Saturday at 2 PM and Sunday at 3 PM.
  Opening Night: Sunday, August 19, 2007
  Review by Simon Saltzman based on press preview performance August 18, 2007
Musical Numbers
Act One
  • Prologue/ Grease Company
  • Summer Nights /Danny, Sandy and Company
  • Those Magic Changes/ Doody and Company
  • Freddy, My Love/ Marty and Pink Ladies
  • Greased Lightnin' /Kenickie and Guys
  • Rydell Fight Song /Sandy and Patty
  • Bleachers/ Mooning Roger and Jan
  • Look at Me, I'm Sandra Dee / Rizzo
  • We Go Together /T-Birds and Pink Ladies
Act Two
  • Shakin at the High School Hop /Company
  • It's Raining on Prom Night /Jan and Sandy
  • Born to Hand-Jive /Vince and Company
  • Hopelessly Devoted to You / Sandy
  • Sandy/Danny
  • Beauty School Dropout /Teen Angel and Girls
  • Rock 'n Roll Party Queen /Doody and Roger
  • There Are Worse Things I Could Do /Rizzo
  • Look at Me, I'm Sandra Dee (Reprise) /Sandy
  • You're the One That I Want /Danny, Sandy and Company
  • We Go Together (Reprise) / Company
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