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Get swept away by lively ‘Grease’

Citizen Staff Writer

February 25, 2009, 5:08 p.m.



Tucson Citizen

Remember that girl back in high school who everyone liked? She wasn’t that cute but everyone liked her anyway.

That’s the way it is with “Grease,” the Fabulous Fifties musical
that never wears out its welcome. A vigorous version is playing
downtown at the Tucson Music Hall, the latest presentation by Broadway
in Tucson – with plenty of black leather and lots of slicked back hair.

As for the Pink Ladies, they all looked very . . . pink. With turned
up collars all around. High school fashions from the 1950s are
important in this show. Letter sweaters, poodle skirts, rayon baseball
jackets and those small-brimmed hats are all in there. Along with such
50-year-old phrases as “knocked up” and “going all the way.”

Most fun is the choreography by director/choreographer Kathleen
Marshall. A stage full of performers pretending to be high school
students whipped through crisply rehearsed routines that emphasized
natural body movements and period dance steps, but elevated all that
movement to a higher standard. Getting swept up in the enthusiasm was
sooooo easy.

Just to prove no one is perfect, Marshall has dulled a positive
impression by having her cast exaggerate every gesture and phrase
reminiscent of the period. All the guys are underlining their double
entendre jokes with pelvis thrusts and hammy leers. After awhile it
gets a little annoying, as if the 1950s and campiness were synonyms. As
if she isn’t sure audiences will think the show is funny, so she
overdoes the acting to make it silly.

But in the end, the spirited dancing and enthusiastic singing
carried the evening. It helped, too, that the pit band pushed the beat
with genuine rock ‘n’ roll intensity. Who can resist those scooping
saxophone low notes and doo-wop harmonies? Judging by the large number
of young people in the audience on opening night, “Grease” has jumped
the generation gap, as well.

The original songs written by Jim Jacobs and Warren Casey have been
enhanced by the big screen version’s movie hits “Hopelessly Devoted To
You,” “You’re the One that I Want,” the “Grease” theme and “Sandy.”

Another special enhancement in this nationally touring production is
the appearance of “American Idol” winner Taylor Hicks as Teen Angel.
His entrance turned applause into screams when he began singing “Beauty
School Dropout.” Looking like a very dapper angel in his shiny charcoal
suit, he tries to cheer up Frenchy (Kate Morgan Chadwick), who gets her
own cheers and applause when, in a pause during the song, she strokes
his chest and purrs “I voted for you.”

This is the only time Hicks is onstage, though he does come back
after the curtain call to introduce the single from his new album,
“What’s Right Is Right.” The addition gives the whole production kind
of an odd and totally unrelated coda, but nobody seemed to mind.

Of the cast regulars, Allie Schulz stole the show playing Rizzo, the
brassy 1950s prototype for today’s modern woman. She wasn’t butch, like
Stockard Channing in the movie, but more high style, which didn’t quite
fit. But when she was singing and dancing, the stage was hers alone.

Emily Padgett was appropriately sweet as Sandy, creating a character
certainly deserving of the dismissive comparison, “Look At Me, I’m
Sandra Dee.”

Eric Schneider was less successful playing Danny. He seemed too soft, but his singing and dancing were strong.

All of this combined to make my favorite number, the show-closing reprise of “We Go Together,” a truly grand finale.


What: Broadway in Tucson presents “Grease,” featuring Taylor Hicks

When: 7:30 p.m. Thursday, 8 p.m. Friday, 2 and 8 p.m. Saturday, 1 and 6:30 p.m. Sunday

Where: Tucson Music Hall, 260 S. Church Ave.

Price: $25-$68

Info: 903-2929, broadwayintucson.com

Grade: B+

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