July 11, 2017
If Rydell High’s class of 1959 were to hold a reunion this summer, it would celebrate the 58th year since graduation. But judging from the IQ exhibited in “Grease,” the ever-popular rock-and-doo-wop musical, we’re not sure how many classmates could count that high, never mind collect a diploma.
The John W. Engeman Theater, named for the East Northport Army officer killed in the line of duty in Iraq in 2006, opens its [11th] season with the 1971 musical that inspired the hit film version starring Olivia Newton-John and John Travolta. In “Grease,” there’s no hint of a worldview beyond high school, which no doubt accounts for its escapist appeal.
On the first day of school, Sandy, a new girl at Rydell, gushes about a boy she met at the beach. In front of his black-leather-jacketed T-Bird pals, Danny (said boy) won’t admit he’s sweet on any girl. Meanwhile, the Pink Ladies clique, led by Rizzo, makes an outcast of Sandy because she doesn’t smoke or drink or wear skintight outfits. She’s derided as the squeaky-clean movie star (“Look at Me, I’m Sandra Dee”). Played with a daring chip on her shoulder by Madeleine Barker, Rizzo fiercely changes her tune on “There Are Worse Things I Could Do” when she finds that her “friend” is late.
Directed by Paul Stancato, Liana Hunt makes an appealing Sandy on “Hopelessly Devoted to You” and with Danny (Sam Wolf) on their bouncy duet, “You’re the One That I Want” — songs from the movie. Of the other Pink Ladies, Frenchy (Sari Alexander) makes a sympathetic impression as the “Beauty School Dropout” in a dreamy duet with Tim Falter. Chris Collins-Pisano and Hannah Slabaugh embody the “Grease” level of humor in “Mooning.”
The T-Birds — including Wolf (a young Marlon Brando look-alike) and Chris Stevens as Rizzo’s boyfriend — sing and dance energetically. But they’d only pass for high schoolers if they’d flunked 10 grades. Heavily made-up, the women fare better as teens, among them Laura Helm as the vamp in the hand-jive contest (athletic choreography by Antoinette DiPietropolo).
Alec Bart’s band rocks steady to the final note of “We Go Together.” Stephen Dobay’s set design catches us in the headlights of “Greased Lightnin’,” the drive-in-movie centerpiece.
Dumb jokes aside, sometimes it’s fun — even therapeutic — to park your mind for a couple of hours. “Grease” greases the way.