To fully appreciate the excellent musical Grease at the Welk Resorts Theatre, forget that adults approaching 30 are cast as high school kids. Try to forget the saccharine film starring Olivia Newton John and John Travolta, and forget the song “Grease” by Bee Gee Barry Gibbs. Just enjoy the rock’n’roll grit and funny satire.
For the Welk revival, director/choreographer Ray Limon travels back to the show’s raunchier roots, catchy songs, and propulsive dances. He draws remarkable performances from the cast, and he gives the satire an extra twist and tension.
This revival remains a comic satire of ‘50s teen films strung together with silly tunes such as “Beauty School Dropout,” “We Go Together,” and “Alone at a Drive-in Movie,” by Jim Jacobs and Warren Casey. It has greasers, bad girls, cheerleaders, and a clueless spinster principal. Girl meets boy but she’s a goody-goody and he just wants her body. He pretends not to like her in front of his pelvic thrusting friends. She has to be willing to break the rules to get him back.
Nick Ordono plays the two-faced hunk Danny Zuko, whose singing is as fine as his pompadour hairdo. Rachel Davis is the perfect goody girl Sandy who transfers to Rydell High. She’s an uncoordinated cheerleader and wholesome innocent in a flannel nightgown. In the pretend world of Rydel High, poor Sandy and Danny would be better off without their gang of friends, the low achieving Burger Palace Boys and Pink Ladies. Don’t search for deep relevance.
Yet Grease has some substance and strikes a nerve even now. Musical comedy paired with worries of pregnancy, boozy promiscuity, and teen violence was and is reality for many people in high school.
Of course Grease is a satire and mixes it all up with fun. But Limon adds a twist by casting a gorgeous dark skinned woman as the combative Rizzo. (For film buffs, Stockard Channing had that role and is now playing the mother of Alicia on TV’s The Good Wife). With the exception of South Pacific, few musicals tackle social issues of race. Where better to illuminate the stain of segregation and racial tension than in a parody of high school in the 1950s?
Tall and leggy Yvonne – no last name –is well suited for the role. She gives the scrappy Rizzo street fighter edge and elegant emotional voice to the solo “There Are Worse Things I Could Do.” She soars in “Look at Me, I’m Sandra Dee.”
Other standout vocals come from Danny and the guys, Kenickie, Sonny, Doody, and Roger (Lucas Coleman, Ariel Neydavoud, Jake Saenz and Will Huse), in “Greased Lightning.” The boyishly lean Lucas Coleman whales on guitar. As Frenchy the washout beautician, Allyson Speigelman shows off keen comedic timing and giant hairstyles. Equally sharp and cheery is the always hungry Jan, played by Bethany Slomka. Her voice shines in “Mooning” with love interest Roger, played by Will Huse.
Limon’s crisp choreography in “Born to Hand Jive” and “Greased Lightning” is electric, sending the whole cast into high gear with cutting hand gestures and changes in direction. You have to wonder how those little body microphones stay put.
Sound quality is excellent. Music director and pianist Justin Gray drives the rock beat like a well-oiled machine. Too bad they are hidden in the pit. Sharell Martin’s costumes are standard vintage. Willis Raymondo’s sets feature a twin bed suitable for slumber parties, eeww, and half a car that rolls on and off stage.
Holding it all together is veteran actor Rex Smith who plays the horny Teen Angel and dim witted DJ Vince Fontaine. If there is one gripe about the show, it is that Smith reads his radio rants from a script. One hopes he rips “oh yay yah oh baby ba ba ba’s” on the fly as the show progresses. But he steals the show in “Beauty School Dropout.” He was in the original Broadway production and still has gushing charm and vocal chops.