One of Broadway’s most durable properties, adapted to become a hit film of major proportions, “Grease” is also a staple of the community, high school and college repertoire. Headed for a May Broadway opening, the new edition of the 1972 pseudo-’50s show has stopped in Costa Mesa, and if ever there was a triumph of packaging over content, this is it. However, given the state of Broadway, this could be a smash, and the Tommy Tune-supervised mounting will give directors of future productions something to shoot for.
A creative staff headed by director-choreographer Jeff Calhoun has come up with plenty of the pizazz associated with Tune, who has worked with many of them in past shows. As the play and music are, to put it as kindly as possible, thin, such fine Tune-ing is well in order.
Susan Wood and Ricky Paull Goldin (billing notwithstanding) head the cast as nice-girl Sandy Dumbrowski and Danny Zuko, a young man with both a wild streak and designs on Sandy.
Blame the producers for deceiving the audience or credit Rosie O’Donnell’s agent for pushing hard, but O’Donnell gets biggest billing for the secondary role of Betty Rizzo, tough girl with a heart of gold.
There’s a uniformly talented and attractive supporting cast, featuring “Star Search” grad Sam Harris — whose own devoted audience would seem to justify billing — and strong turns by Sandra Purpuro and Billy Porter.
But the real star is the physical look of the show, with John Amone’s garish and surprising sets, Willa Kim’s costumes and Calhoun’s choreography showing considerably more wit and imagination than the script and songs, written by Jim Jacobs and the late Warren Casey.
This production eliminates one character, singer Johnny Casino, and replaces the prom band with a vocal group, the Four Straight A’s, that sounds like something out of “Forever Plaid.”
An especially imaginative touch has Teen Angel, written as a Frankie Avalon-styled crooner, played by Billy Porter as a raving rocker in the image of Little Richard or Esquirita.
Seemingly conceding how inauthentic (even as parody) and weak Jacobs and Casey’s songs are, the show makes liberal use of the vintage Skyliners hit, “Since I Don’t Have You,” which the group and its manager wrote, though they’re not credited in this production’s program.
The show’s been a success for 20 years, albeit among audiences to whom the ‘ 50s evidently all happened simultaneously — how else could there be references to the Edsel (late ’57), the hand jive (late ’58), the hully-gully (c. 1962) or Sandra Dee in “Gidget” (1958) in the early-’57-set show?
For that matter, the “Rydell” of “Rydell High” must have been some other guy; Bobby Rydell’s first hit was in 1959. But if that didn’t make any difference in 1972, why should it today?