Review: 'Greased Lightning:' It's all about the fun

Former 'American Idol' winner Taylor Hicks, center, plays Teen Angel in the touring cast of 'Grease.' The show starts a five-night run at the Barbara B. Mann Performing Arts Hall on Nov. 3.

Former 'American Idol' winner Taylor Hicks, center, plays Teen Angel in the touring cast of 'Grease.' The show starts a five-night run at the Barbara B. Mann Performing Arts Hall on Nov. 3.

What: Stage version of the popular 1978 film

When: 7:30 p.m. Thursday; 8 p.m. Friday; 2 p.m. & 8 p.m. Saturday; 1 p.m. & 6:30 p.m. Sunday

Where: Barbara B. Mann Performing Arts Hall, 13350 Edison Parkway, Fort Myers

Cost: $75, $60, $50, $40

Information: Call 481-4849 or go to bbmannpah.com

Something Else: Parking is congested because of evening classes at Edison College. Park farther out and escape the after-show traffic jams. There's also construction on Summerlin Road on the east side of campus.

What a long, strange trip it's been for "Grease." The 1950s love story has traveled from stage to screen and back to the stage, now headlined by a television pop idol crooning the words to "Beauty School Dropout." This latest version, appearing on stage at the Barbara B. Mann Performing Arts Hall in Fort Myers, leans hard on every bit of nostalgia it can find - and emerges a surprisingly good time.

Jim Jacobs and Warren Case's original script, called "Grease Lighting," was a gritty examination of the "greaser" culture in suburban Chicago. The hard edges vanished before the show hit Broadway in 1972. The 1978 film added four new songs, including "Hopelessly Devoted to You," "You're the One That I Want" and the title song.

Most of the planet, especially the half with a Y chromosome, probably retains an indelible image of Olivia Newton-John emerging in her "greaser-girl" attire, stubbing out her cigarette and climbing around the carnival in those tighter-than-tight leather pants with John Travolta singing "You're The One That I Want." Given the film's three decades of enduring popularity, it is likely no coincidence that most of the touring cast bears at least a passing resemblance to their iconic predecessors. "Grease" pushes every emotional button at its disposal - and pushes them hard.

The plots of the stage and screen versions are virtually the same, minus a few details. So what does the roadshow production offer that's wholly its own? A whole lot of fun, really.

Of all the film's signature numbers - only the "Greased Lightning" number - for all its energy - disappoints. Travolta's hyper-sexual performance - including a fantasy sequence with the candy-apple red car inside a white studio - is impossible to recreate on stage. Other songs are more successful, particularly the iconic "Born to Hand Jive" and the first-act closer "We Go Together;" both are toe-tapping delights.

Allie Schulz (Rizzo) and David Ruffin (Kenickie) stand out amongst the all-around excellent cast. Schulz is a regal presence, drawing the eye she's on the stage - especially when wearing skin-tight pink and black hot pants and singing the tender "There Are Worse Things I Could Do." Ruffin practically defines jaunty; his comic timing is excellent and he leads "Greased Lightning" with loads of boogie-woogie bicep-flexing style.

You have to mention American Idol Taylor Hicks, although he's there for just one song. Hicks steps into Frankie Avalon's shoes to sing "Beauty School Dropout" - complete with a parade of angelic backup dancers wearing silver glitter headpieces fashioned out of over-the-head hair dryers. I didn't watch one second of his season, but it is obvious why he won; he can - and does - sing down the house.

The show is fun - lots of fun. It doesn't try to be anything other than fun - which is precisely and exactly what it should be doing. If you look deep enough the essential messages of "friendship" and "loyalty" remain and all the social issues from the 1970s remain, albeit pushed far into the background.

"Grease" shamelessly trades on its considerable history and charm - but doesn't disappoint. The halls of Rydell High are just as much fun to visit today as they have been any time since 1978. The music is lively, the tunes are bouncy, "grease is the word." If your neighbor's feet aren't moving during the show, check his pulse.

Stockard Channing was 33 when she played Betty Rizzo. Trouble with Home Ec? Email me at csilk@naplesnews.com.

© 2009 marconews.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

  • Discuss
  • Print

Related Stories

Related Links

Comments » 0

Be the first to post a comment!

Share your thoughts

Comments are the sole responsibility of the person posting them. You agree not to post comments that are off topic, defamatory, obscene, abusive, threatening or an invasion of privacy. Violators may be banned. Click here for our full user agreement.

Comments can be shared on Facebook and Yahoo!. Add both options by connecting your profiles.

Features