Book, Music and Lyrics by Jim Jacobs
and Warren Casey
Directed by PJ Paparelli
Choreographed by Jim Corti
Musical direction by Roberta Dichak
At the American Theater Company (ATC)
Too ambitious a return to the original grease spells tedium
We all know and sorta love the 1972 Broadway production and the hit film of Grease from 1978 with John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John but few remember the 1971 production of the original grease at the old Kingston Mines Theatre in Chicago. I sorta remember that for the time edgy new musical about the “greasers” from Taft High School in Chicago. I say ‘sorta’ because I don’t remember that production containing as much humor at PJ Paparelli’s 2011 revival of the original grease. Maybe because it was so controversial with its language and subject matter?
I never thought I’d ever say that I liked the later, more sanitized versions of Grease much more than this revival! ATC’s 2011 production was simply too long and too unfocused as it contained a vastly inferior score than the later Broadway stage productions and the film. I believe, at 2 hours 45 minutes, the show is 45 too long. It also could use a decision – would it be better as a coming of age comedy WITHOUT the early music – which I found to be much too much like the late 50’s rock groups they imitated or does it work as a musical? I’d vote for the comedy with maybe a couple of the songs from the Broadway production. I’d make it a fast-paced 2 hours and I’d start without all that 50 year reunion nonsense.
Yet, this energetic production had its humorous moments but the singing was shaky and the old tunes deserved to be cut. Replacing “Summer Nights” with the bland original “Foster Beach” didn’t work for me. Maybe nostalgia come into play here? There was a reason the more polished score emerged – it was better – as evidenced by the 8 year run of 3,388 Broadway performances. Add the fact that much of this revival of the original grease’s humor comes from the foul-mouthed language. I guess it’s funny when Danny and Rizzo use the F_ word, etc since we all remember them saying “shucks” and “darn” in the film.
Curiosity and nostalgia will fuel the original grease into a campy hit. Since the cast is filled with adequate performers with no particularly good singers, the show’s appeal lies in its crude humor and realistic blue-collar coming of age antics from the white kids from the Northwest Side of Chicago. Their search for identity in the pre-hippie and pre-Beatlesera seems tame and simple-minded as the class of 1960 emerges into adulthood. I was 16 years old in 1960 living not too far from Taft High School so I remember the low class greasers as being ignorant losers making my nostalgic empathy quite low.
The original grease has enough moments and a few bouncy rock tunes to be deserving an audience. Those of us from that era may enjoy this show and the 20-30somethings will find it an interesting curiosity piece.
Talk Theatre in Chicago podcast
Date Reviewed: May 2, 2010
For full show information, visit TheatreinChicago
At the American Theater Company, 1909 W. Byron, Chicago, IL, call773-409-4125, www.atcweb.org, tickets $45 – 50, Thursdays & Fridays at 8 pm, Saturdays at 3 & 8 pm, Sundays at 3 pm, running time is 2 hours 45 minutes with intermission, through June 26, 2011
A sample from ATC’s the original grease: