Helmer-choreographer Kathleen Marshall’s much-hyped 2007 Broadway staging of this venerable rock ‘n’ roll tuner may have sprung forth from the NBC talent competition “Grease: You’re the One That I Want,” but this road show incarnation proves that “Grease” has the basic substance to “hand jive” its way into infinity. The cameo appearance of 2006 “American Idol” winner Taylor Hicks as Teen Angel comes off as a Busby Berkeley-esque sideshow but doesn’t distract from the infectious talent and energy flowing from the kids at Rydell High.
The NBC competition’s winners, Laura Osnes and Max Crumm, did not take to the road, but Emily Padgett’s Sandy Dumbrowski and Eric Schneider’s Danny Zuko are impressive as the respective goody-two-shoes new girl and the school’s bad boy who courts her. Padgett displays seemingly limitless vocal range, soaring through Sandy’s lovelorn “Hopelessly Devoted to You.” When it is his turn to lament, Schneider’s Danny offers a memorable ode to his lost love (“Sandy”).
But what truly drives this “Grease” outing is the supporting cast, who luxuriate within the machinations of the Pink Ladies, led by Allie Schulz’s tough girl Betty Rizzo, and the T Birds gang, with its swaggering leader Kenickie (David Ruffin). Schulz, a Sandy runner-up from the NBC contest, amply displays Rizzo’s sarcasm (“Look at Me, I’m Sandra Dee”) and her vulnerability (“There Are Worse Things I Could Do”). Ruffin’s Kenickie leads the guys through a super-charged “Grease Lightnin’. ”
The actual vocal powerhouse standouts in this production are two T Bird members, Doody (Brian Crum) and Roger (Will Blum). Crum commands the stage as neophyte guitarist Doody works his way through “Those Magic Changes.” Blum’s Roger is equally adept at rhapsodizing over his unique talent (“Mooning”).
Hicks’ vocal is serviceable in his spotlight number, “Beauty School Dropout,” sung to Kate Morgan Chadwick’s hilariously over-the-top Frenchy. Although he is almost engulfed by the accompanying female chorus and Marshall’s everything-but-the-kitchen-sink staging, Hicks manages to instill his own personality into the number, including a harmonica instrumental chorus. Hicks is much more in his element when showcased after the curtain call with his latest release, “What’s Right Is Right.”
For the first time, the Broadway stage version of “Grease” is utilizing songs created for the 1978 John Travolta film, including title song “Grease” and “You’re the One That I Want.” Both numbers suffered from blaring instrumental accompaniment that drowned out the cast.