The Rydell High School class of ’59 is having a reunion at the Paper Mill, and they appear to have mellowed with age. “Grease,” the long-running 1972 musical spoof of the duck-tailed era, is the theater’s season closer, and despite a book that never had much substance, it proves a refreshing evening.
What makes this revival particularly interesting is the interpolation of four songs from the 1978 cult film that starred John Travolta, Olivia Newton John and Stockard Channing. “Sandy” (penned by Scott Simon and Louis St. Louis), Danny’s lovesick ode to his wholesome chick, replaces “I’m Alone,” and “You’re the One I Want” (John Farrar) is in for the former finale, “All Choked Up.”
Also added is Farrar’s “Hopelessly Devoted to You,” a chart hit, and the film’s title tune by Barry Gibb, “Grease.” The new tunes are an improvement, and provide something more melodic to hum on the way out. Still, the original score by the show’s book writers, Jim Jacobs and Warren Casey, successfully manages to recapture the attitude and flavor of the period.
The satirical show remains rather innocent, and bits of offensive dialogue from the original text have been clipped. And this revival is less offensively loud and mind-crushing than the original production and the 1994 Broadway revival.
Sandy, Jennifer Hope Wills, is a charming, gooey-eyed ingenue with a sweet voice and a winsome personality. Andy Karl, as Danny, the leader of the Burger Palace crowd, struts and poses with an air of superiority, charm and confidence. Leslie Kritzer, who triumphed as Fanny Brice in the Paper Mill “Funny Girl,” is back as Rizzo, the sarcastic, streetwise cookie. She has a knockout turn with “There Are Worse Things I Could Do” and the virginal parody “Look at Me, I’m Sandra Dee.”
Noah Weisberg offers a broadly goofy turn as the class nerd, and Benjie Randal gets big yuks with “Mooning.” Turning a jalopy into a hot rod, John Jeffrey Martin revs up just fine with “Greased Lightening.” Brenda Cummings is the hard-as-nails English teacher, but misses a subtle comic touch. (Marcia Lewis in the ’94 revival was a master of the art of the double take.)
Director Mark S. Hoebee has invested the show with a spirited rock and rollin’ pace, and his choreography with Jeffrey Amsden recaptures the spirit of the era. James Fouchard’s set is a glittering giant jukebox topped with panoramic sketches of happy young people.