Hopelessly Eroded

Grease slides into mediocrity at Playhouse Square


Through May 23 Palace Theatre 1615 Euclid Ave. 216-241-6000 Tickets: $10-$70 playhousesquare.org

So it's come to this? A live production of an insanely popular musical needs an actor from the company to come out before the curtain rises to warm up the crowd, like it's a Wheel of Fortune taping? As they say on SNL: Really?!

The show is Grease at PlayhouseSquare, and it features well-known, bulletproof material — musical and otherwise — written by Jim Jacobs and Warren Casey. Fortunately, most of the cast can sing just fine (with one idolatrous exception), but virtually everything else about this touring show is either bland or thoroughly disconnected.

The story of Danny and Sandy, the two mismatched teens who fall in love at Rydell High, was rendered almost to perfection in the 1978 movie starring John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John. But a live stage production should be able to trump any film in terms of electricity and immediacy. Right?

Not in this case. To begin with, director/choreographer Kathleen Marshall contributes a devastating one-two punch by allowing the pace to drag — and sometimes stop entirely — while staging dances notable only for their predictable, uninspired steps. Where is local dance guru Martin Cespedes when you really need him?

Playing Danny and Sandy are, respectively, Josh Hamilton (who relies on his one blank facial expression to convey all emotions) and Lauren Ashley Zakrin (who is cute as a button and just about as interesting to stare at for two hours). She trills "Hopelessly Devoted to You" with charm but little understanding. And the sexual chemistry between these two could fit into a fruit fly's change purse.

In the pivotal role of Rizzo, the smack-talking bitch on wheels, Laura D'Andre completely fades into the scenery (such as it is), although her rendering of "There Are Worse Things I Could Do" almost touches a nerve. As her counterpart, the supposedly hard-edged delinquent Kenickie, David Ruffin is more Smurf than stud.

The T-birds try to strut, but they look like they belong in the chess club, and the Pink Ladies never pop their gum ferociously enough to become a feminine force field. Fortunately, Kate Morgan Chadwick delivers a funny, endearing Frenchy.

In the featured role of Teen Angel, season five American Idol champ Taylor Hicks pops out of a suspended ice-cream cone (nice touch), but lands in suspended animation as he woodenly croons the formerly amusing "Beauty School Dropout." In words he might understand: Yoyoyo, lissen up dawg, it was kinda pitchy for me. You changed up the tune, but it didn't help the song or the show. Didn't work for me, dawg.

The good parts, other than Frenchy? Roxie Lucas is a formidable Miss Lynch, and the "It's Raining on Prom Night" duet featuring Sandy and Jan (Bridie Carroll) actually feels genuine. But if you want to introduce a youngster to the glories of '50s greaser charm, or relive it yourself, rent the DVD.

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Christine Howey

Christine Howey has been reviewing theater since 1997, first at Cleveland Free Times and then for other publications including City Pages in Minneapolis, MN and The Plain Dealer. Her blog, Rave and Pan, also features her play reviews. Christine is a former stage actor and director, primarily at Dobama Theatre...
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