By: Paulanne Simmons
When Grease, Jim Jacobs and Warren Casey’s musical parody of working-class youth culture during the 1950s, was first staged in 1971, is was a down and dirty production that tackled many of the social problems troubling both young people and their parents. The show touched on gang violence, pregnancy, class conflict, bullying and underage drinking, and gave it all the finger.
Since that time, Grease has been substantially cleaned up, both onstage and in the 1978 film version starring John Travolta, Olivia Newton-John and Stockard Channing. The same characters are all there – from the bitter, worldly Rizzo to the clueless Frenchy. But they have lost most of their bite. In fact, thanks in large part to its memorable score that pastiches rock and roll, with its pulsing rhythms and sexy dance numbers, Grease has become a favorite of community theater and high school drama departments.
Paper Mill Playhouse’s revival, directed by Daniel Goldstein, is certainly consistent with the sanitized version. This Grease is perfect family entertainment. The cast, led by Bobby Conte Thornton as Danny, Taylor Louderman as Sandy and Morgan Weed as Rizzo, is considerably older than the adolescents they are playing, but they have all the energy, aggression and raw innocence to make their attendance at Rydell High School believable.
Choreographer Joann M. Hunter keeps the dancers hopping and Martin Parkledinaz dresses the youngsters in the flared skirts and leather jackets of the 50s. Only a true cynic might point out that some of the outfits these teenagers wear would result in their being sent immediately to the principal’s office in 1950.
Set designer Derek McLane has worked with lighting designer Charlie Morrison to give the show lots of razzle-dazzle while keeping costs down. The best moment, of course, belongs to that scene when the old jalopy is transformed into the famed "Greased Lightnin’."
So many of the songs in Grease are so well known it’s hard not to sing along. Standouts in this revival are "Born to Hand Jive" and Telly Leung’s tremendous "Beauty School Dropout."
While some may mourn the metamorphosis of Grease from a counter-culture spoof to a musical cartoon more like Annie than Matilda, there’s no doubt that this show offers many delights, not least of which is that you don’t have to get a babysitter.
Grease, at Paper Mill Playhouse
22 Brookside Drive, Milbourn, New Jersey
Through June 29.
Follow Us On Facebook
Photography Matthew Murray and Jerry Dalia