Monday, April 14, 2003


Reduced to its lowest common denominator, Grease, the American favorite by Jim Jacobs and Warren Casey, which helped make a star out of John Travolta, is the story of a nice girl who meets a nice boy during summer vacation. When school starts, she learns he's really one of the punks of the school and in order to be his girl she needs to run with the "bad" girls, learn to smoke and drink, dress provocatively and make fun of anybody who's not part of the in-crowd. And everybody lives happily ever after. Well, everybody in the in-crowd, that is.

It's hard to know why this latest offering by the Davis Musical Theatre has survived for so long and been so popular. There's a very minimal story line. It holds all the things we try to teach our kids to avoid (smoking, drinking, premarital sex, abortion, failing classes, bullying, etc.) as something "cool" to do.

About the only thing it has going for it is toe-tapping music and vigorous dance routines. If you don't have those, along with strong acting, and good voices, you have nothing.

When the actors on stage who attract your attention as being the most solid performers are not the leads, you know you're in big trouble. Heading that list are David "Turtle" Akona as Doody, Lauren DeMitchell as Jan, Mary Young as Miss Lynch, and Marc Valdez as Eugene. All give good, solid performances and it's hard to keep your eyes off of them when they are on stage. Akona keeps his character going through the curtain call.

The leads give uneven performances and, having seen people like David Holmes (Danny) give such an outstanding performance in "How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying," it's hard to know if his uneven performance comes from within the actor or from director Jan Isaacson.

Likewise Amber Jean Moore (Sandy) is obviously a talented actress, but we only got glimpses of that talent, and she also seemed unable to project to the back of the house.

Megan Garcia (Rizzo) worked so hard on her bored, sardonic personna throughout that we had no glimpse into the soul of Rizzo, which we need in order to have any feelings at all for her fears about being pregnant. Her solo, "There are worse things I could do" displayed a powerful set of lungs, but again, no modulation. She was either very loud or unable to be heard.

The DMTC production needs a strong attention to detail, which it did not have.

The program lists the cast of characters "in the order of their appearance," but the first three people to appear on stage are somewhere toward the bottom of the list. It's a list by importance of character, not by order of appearance--and on the off chance you may be unfamiliar with the show, this could be confusing.

The show is set in 1959, but during the pajama party scene, the girls are reading an old movie magazine from the late 1940s (it shows a cover of Judy Garland from her MGM years, which ended in 1950--there are people in the audience who do notice such things).

The car, Greased Lightning is plainly visible throughout the show, though pushed offstage. It could be argued that there is no wing space at the Varsity Theatre, but the car could easily have been covered with a black cloth to prevent the audience from seeing it.

Choreography by Lori Holmes was quite good, though the cast didn't seem to have quite perfected it yet.

Jean Henderson's costumes were fine representations of the period (even down to the traditional poodle skirt), but she did Garcia a disservice with her first act costume, which was too tight in the waist and too short in the bodice, artificially giving the actress rolls of flesh around her waist which she obviously does not have naturally.

I was seated in the front row for the first act and thought that my inability to hear dialog and lyrics over the band was because I was sitting too close. However, moving back farther in the house did not help.

My overall impression of "Grease" is that there's no "there" there to begin with, but clever direction, costuming, choreography and acting can camouflage this bit of fluff and make you forget that you're rooting for Sandy to give up all of her moral values in order to be a likeable punk. Unfortunately, DMTC has not achieved that goal.