The draw for this revival of the fifth-longest-running show in Broadway history is Rosie O’Donnell, and perhaps it’s fitting that an actress about to open on the big screen as Betty Rubble in “The Flintstones” proves something of a Neanderthal onstage as well. It seems odd to cast as the lead in a musical someone who, based on this performance, can’t sing or dance — unless, of course , singing and dancing are beside the point. The point is money, and this touring production lands at the beautifully restored O’Neill having already made plenty of it, so O’Donnell must be doing something right, even if it isn’t singing or dancing.
Here O’Donnell plays another Betty — greaser chick Rizzo, whose hubcap romance with Kenickie (Jason Opsahl) represents half of the show’s modest plot. The language in “Grease” has been somewhat retrofitted to make it even more inoffensive than it was 22 years ago, though having a working-class high school girl dispatch her steady to the drugstore for tampons does jar somewhat, even if the interchange is only a heavy-handed plot device. “Grease” was, and it remains, a period piece.
As new-girl-in-town Sandy Dumbrowski, Susan Wood is pretty and has a swell voice that will certainly be put to better use soon. As her fickle beau, Danny Zuko, Ricky Paull Goldin is totally bland. Billy Porter, who recently played this theater as a Guy Named Moe, is now a soulful Teen Angel. Priming the crowd before the curtain rises, Brian Bradley is sweatily smarmy as the sweatily smarmy DJ Vince Fontaine. Hide your daughters.
Tommy (“I don’t do revivals”) Tune reputedly lent his name to this production to give his protege, Jeff Calhoun, a showcase while Tune himself worked on the “Best Little Whorehouse” revival — I mean sequel — a few blocks away. Calhoun needs some more protege-ing. The use of Hula-Hoops, tires and such in the choreography is vintage Tune, but the way they are used is effortful, derivative and vulgar. The staging is only slightly more competent.
John Arnone’s Day-Glo designs are too garishly lit by Howell Binkley to be much fun, and Willa Kim’s costumes range from unattractive black-and-white cartoon numbers to serviceable ’50s styles. The music — one song has been dropped and the Skyliners’ hit “Since I Don’t Have You” has been added for Sandy — is well played and presented.
So if “The Best Little Whorehouse Goes Public” is for the tired businessman, is “Grease” for the tired teen? Whatever the case, tired is the operative word.