Grease, book, lyrics and music by Jim Jacobs and Warren Casey. Directed by Artie DíAlessio. Reviewed by J. Peter Bergman
Michael Borges and Brittany Boivin as Danny and Sandy
"Rama lama lama, ka-dinga, ka ding-dong"
It seems that the most famous words ever to emerge from a Broadway musical, other than "Some Enchanted Evening you may meet a stranger" and perhaps "Oh, what a beautiful morning..." are "Rama lama lama, ka-dinga, ka ding-dong" and "Shoo-bop sha wadda-wadda, Yippity boom-de-boom." Those last two phrases come from the musical now playing at the Theater Barn in New Lebanon, New York, "Grease." Trying vainly to remember the original cast and the replacements in that remarkable long run the show had in 1972, long enough to replace all the Rodgers and Hammerstein shows as long-run winner, I went and looked them up. During that first New York run, not counting the revivals, the cast of the show included all of the following folks: Barry Bostwick, Jeff Conaway, Peter Gallagher, ,Patrick Swayze, Treat Williams, Adrian Zmed, and as their understudy Richard Gere, all in the pivotal male lead role of Danny Zuko. Betty Rizzo was played by Adrienne Barbeau and Judy Kaye, Kenickie by future director Jerry Zaks, Sandy, the heroine by Carole Demas and Ilene Graff and others in the company included Tony winner Walter Bobbi, Kathi Moss, John Travolta (who later played Danny in the movie but in the play he was Doody), Walter Charles, Jamie Donnelly (who repeated her Jan in the film), Marilu Henner, David Paymer, Nicholas Wyman, and local "singing realtor"Alaina Warren.
Itís an impressive group of folks. Each in his or her way brought an electricity to their roles that helped to keep the show alive and well - and none of them were stars when they went into the show, unlike the major revivals of "Grease" in New York which have kept their efforts going only by bringing in large name stars who will draw an audience to anything they do, including reading a phone book.
At the Barn there are no stars, but there are a few young actors who might just make it up that wobbly ladder to fame and success.
Rick Desloge plays Doody, the role that Travolta first took over. He solos in both acts in two important numbers, "Those Magic Changes" and "Rock ĎN Roll Party Queen." This guy has so much charm it bursts out of him and that personality will take him a long way. He plays his role with great conviction and obvious interest. But much as he did as Jinx in "Forever Plaid" here, he moves beyond the role he is playing to allow a fusion of his own persona and that of the character he plays.
Allie Schauer is a force to be reckoned with as Betty Rizzo and Ashley Blasland makes more of Patti Simcox, the total opposite of Rizzo, than most people have done in the past. These two women are hilarious in their few scenes together. Such amazing opposites, Schauer keeps Rizzo an unsympathetic character and yet she still makes us like her and root for her, particularly in the final scene where so much "story" happens suddenly. Blasland manages the same sort of minor miracle as she pines for Danny and works to make him her own. We know that nothing can come of such a union and it doesnít matter because Blasland moves her character in and out of the morass of men musing on her frigidity, a quality this young actress knows how to move across the stage and out into our consciousness.
Wade Elkins, a second survivor of the Plaids, does a fine job with Kenickie, setting the song "Greased Lightning" on its musical ass. Itís a powerful performance.
There are others, just as good, but other than Angie Perezís hysterically funny Cha-Cha DiGregorio, a woman whose upper body never stops moving in this production, I am not going to continue enumerating the best of the show.
Instead there are the two weak points: Zuko and his paramour Sandy. Brittany Boivin just doesnít seem or feel right. Her whining about her life made the wrong impression on me and I grew to dislike her. When she undergoes a drastic transformation, which I find remarkable theater work with incredible timing, she finally comes alive, but her personality, or rather that of her character, has remained steadfastly intact for too long this time around and I just couldnít warm up to her.
I felt the same way about the Danny Zuko of Michael Borges. He has that smarmy, 1950's look down pat and he is muscular and dances in a manner reminiscent of Travolta in this and his other signature roles. But somewhere, inside his head, he never manages to make himself into the high school kid who acts out his aggressions. There is no romance in him and there is no anger in him. No matter what he does, he never gets the Danny Zuko we need to see onto the stage.
Without a threatening and forceful Danny and a Sandy we can sympathize with there is no show, just a bunch of numbers strung together by talented actors. That is what we have in this "Grease."
There is no one to blame for this. Director Artie DíAlessio has done a very nice job of recreating a classic in a limited time. He knows the right buttons to push and he almost gets the movement down right, but there is almost a sense of ridicule, of ugly parody at times that may or may not be his doing. I didnít attend rehearsals, so I donít know. The show becomes stagnant now and then and that may be attributable to him or to the actors, again it is hard to be certain.
The Phelps team, Abe and Allen, do a very nice job with the look of the show as do Elyse and Leah Miller with the costumes - a bit too borrowed, again, from the film version. I did miss the Pink Ladies pink jackets, but thatís all right. If thatís what Iím left thinking about then that was not the only thing wrong, it just means I am concentrating on black leather replacing pink silk instead of the greater issue of why the show just didnít work for me. I doubt it was the jackets.
Grease runs at the Theater Barn on Route 20 in New Lebanon through August 31. Tickets are inexpensive enough for you to go, make up your own minds and tell me off if you think you must. Call the box office for tickets: 518-794-8989.