Review: 'Grease' national tour

March 27, 2011
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I tried a half dozen times to capture my experience at the national tour of “Grease” that ran at Clowes Hall on March 22-27 without sounding excessively nasty, cynical, angry, and sad.

Those feelings seem wildly out of proportion for a seemingly thrown-together production of a thrown-together musical. So I considered throwing out this review altogether.

But I’ll try one more time.

Having sat through the non-Equity tour—cast largely with “first time on a national tour” young performers—I have a newfound appreciation for the film version.

Admittedly, unlike the millions that turned the movie into a blockbuster and still re-watch it with nostalgia for its ‘70s nostalgia for an imaginary ‘50s, I was never a fan. Give me “American Graffiti.” Give me “West Side Story.” Heck, give me “High School Musical.” I take little pleasure in a few fun songs hidden in the unfunny story of a girl who learns to tart herself up to be accepted by a bunch of narcissistic jerks.

The stage musical, as written, is far worse, giving the actors little to play, little differentiation of relationships, and zero motivation for Sandy to turn into a tramp. By the time she pulls her teased-and-tight-look, she’s already got Danny interested again and seems to have the friendship of everyone but Rizzo (unless she’s really got a thing for Rizzo ... hmmmmmm).

Caring about such a thing, though, is difficult in a show that doesn’t seem to care itself about anything, not even being funny.

No favors to the material are done in the production that came to Clowes Hall as part of the “Broadway” in Indianapolis season (I put that in quotes, because not a single member of the cast has an actually Broadway credit to boast of in the program). When the highlight of a “Grease” production is Doody (Marc Winski) singing “Those Magic Changes,” then something is seriously off. Eddie Mekka, the touted star of this production, didn’t even make it to Indy.

There I go again, sounding excessively nasty, cynical, angry and sad.

But let’s be positive.

If you like musicals and think this show was even remotely tolerable, then strongly considering seeing some of the far superior work being done locally by the avocational Booth Tarkington Civic Theatre (this fall’s “The Drowsy Chaperone"), Beef & Boards Dinner Theatre (opening “Annie Get Your Gun” this week), and  the Phoenix Theatre (with “Avenue Q” on the horizon).

Your thoughts?  

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  • Grease
    Lou, I again think your comments are right on point. The only person on the stage that I thought might have the talent to join an equity tour was Rizzo. The timing of this show for renewals is pretty rough. Having now been reminded what is the potential downside to a non-equity cast I am again doubting if I will renew.

    I have seen higher production quality (scene changes, costumes, sound) at the IRT, Phoenix, Civic, Beef and Boards, and even TOTS. One friend even commented to me that his high school production of Grease was better than this one.
  • Grease
    Lou, I again think your comments are right on point. The only person on the stage that I thought might have the talent to join an equity tour was Rizzo. The timing of this show for renewals is pretty rough. Having now been reminded what is the potential downside to a non-equity cast I am again doubting if I will renew.

    I have seen higher production quality (scene changes, costumes, sound) at the IRT, Phoenix, Civic, Beef and Boards, and even TOTS. One friend even commented to me that his high school production of Grease was better than this one.
  • Grease
    I thought the best part of the show was when the Vince Fontaine understudy was warming up the crowd before the show by getting people to sing and dance along to songs from the 50s...
  • TS
    Ok... I really have nothing to add, but gotta weigh in on this. Thanks Lou for the union shout-out. Hopefully Indy will eventually realize that just because something is in the "B-way" series that don't mean it's from the â??B-wayâ??. Scenically the show was drab at best with what appeared to be a rehashed set far past its prime. Whereas the cast was not even close to prime. We commented that at least 4 of the boys on solo lines were completely off pitchâ?¦ not flat, not sharp, not â??pitcheyâ?? (thank you Randy Jackson). Lou, what you seemed to find the highlight (Magic Changes) started so butt puckeringly off that I could not enjoy it without fear of the sympathetic vibrations rattling a lighting instrument into the unassuming crowd below. I agree with an earlier post, that the â??preshowâ?? with Vince Fontane was a highlight. I also enjoyed the restructuring of the show to not be a flashback from a high school reunion. But, I would think that was done for the recent NY revival and the miandering direction did nothing to help this production move past justâ?¦ OK (in the good parts). Many jokes were buried in the unfocused mess.

    This show was produced by â??New Dollar Entertainmentâ?? but yet everyone was thanking â??Troika Productionsâ?? in their bios. Troika is one of the companies that has been doing these non-union tours the longest. They form a subsidiary â??groupsâ?? for each show. (For example, Beyond-Blonde LLC and Cats-Eye LLC for LEAGALY BLONDE and CATS respectively.) The following is a quote from Troikaâ??s website â??(Troika) prides itself on thinking outside the apple, delivering a top quality product using cost-effective production methods.â?? Cost effectiveâ?¦. Hmmm. How does that translate to the product we saw? The LEAGALY BLONDE tour that came through earlier WAS a Broadway tour and it even had the wonderful Michael Rupert recreating his Broadway role as Prof. Callahan.

    According to the Broadway Series office here in town the reason that next yearâ??s season is one show LESS (4) and half non-union (FIDDLER and BEAUTY AND THE BEAST) is that Indy is just not putting enough butts in the seats for the better programming represented by this season. Financially, times are hard for all of us and with some of the first, or at least second, string shows of this year (MARY POPPINS, LEAGALY BLONDE) did not create the kind of interest meriting the return of such offerings. The solution? Buy subscriptions and voice preferences is what I have been told.
    • ??
      So I guess that'll teach me to use too many quotes....

      Folks, anywhere you see 2 question marks it should be in quotes.
    • Magic Changes
      Ty,
      Thanks for your input.
      I think we heard the same thing (re: "Magic Changes") but we read it differently.
      My interpretation was that the off-key was deliberate. I gave the show and the actor credit for playing a typical kid who picks up a guitar for the first time, learns a few chords and, in spite of a complete lack of talent, has fantasies of being a rock and roll star. I found it just about the only human moment in the robotic show.
      --Lou
    • Grease
      After seeing the production Sturday afternoon, I reluctantly agree with your review. The cast could have just done the montage of songs after the bows and I would have left happier. The cast seemed unable to decide on accents, the singing was weak and the whole thing seemed rushed. The show couldn't even excite the pre-teen Grease fanatic that I brought with me. Bummer, especially for the price.
    • <3 Doody
      I have never seen the Grease movie (although I will be watching it this evening) but I disagree
      I may just be a kid, but I thought it was very good and funny (except the "turning into a tramp" moral you talked about)
      I ESPECIALLY LOVE LOVE LOVE Doody
      And I thought Marc Winski makes an ADORABLE Doody
      This is all opinion. I mean to offend no one !!!!
    • Since when?
      Since when does being a member of the union automatically mean that a person is more talented, better equiped and more professional than someone who is non-union? I have seen plenty of union productions, locally and on Broadway, where I was left scratching my head thinking, "Reallly?"

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