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Musical Review: ‘Grease’ at Kansas City Music Hall

February 23, 2011

I’m an avid fan of the Grease movie. It was the very first movie I ever saw on a VCR, so of course it is deeply rooted in nostalgia. I even bought the photonovel (a comic book that uses film stills) that accompanied the film and memorized every single line from the movie.

Recently the film has resurfaced on cable, and I watched the film with my daughters, who were just as enthralled as I was when I first saw the musical film. It’s been on heavy rotation on our DVR ever since.  When one of my critic friends told me he had an extra seat for opening night, I thought I’d died and gone to heaven.

The touring production of Grease opened in Kansas City on February 22 at the Municipal Auditorium Music Hall. It’s a relatively small production, featuring a cast of about twenty actors. Eddie Mekka (of Laverne & Shirley fame) came out to introduce the show and provide a few laughs.

Everyone knows the story of Grease; sweet and sunny Sandy (Alyssa Herrera)  falls in love with bad-boy greaser Danny (Matt Nolan) and the two face all the normal obstacles one does in high school.  The musical takes place in the 1950′s at Rydell High, where poodle skirts, pedal pushers and biker jackets are all the rage.

The production knows exactly what the audience wants. Great attention was taken to insure that each major character looks exactly like their film counterpart. It’s uncanny. The actor’s have also taken pains to nail the mannerisms of their character. Lauren Elaine Taylor channels Stockard Channing as Rizzo, Matt Nolan mimics a lot of the exact movements Travolta did in the original, Marty has the big bust and same hairstyle-you get the idea.

That makes it a lot of fun to watch, but by invoking the performances of the film cast, the actors also did themselves a disservice. There is simply too much to live up to, and most solo performances fell flat.  Voices frequently trailed off or wavered, and it was painfully obvious, particularly when you have the original running through your head. I didn’t feel that either of the leads were strong enough for their roles.

The male solos, in particular,  seemed drowned out by the music, and frequently you could not hear the lyrics at all.

No matter, everyone knows them anyway, as demonstrated by a rousing rendition of “Greased Lightning” that seemed to have everyone in the audience mouthing the words.

The musical was at its best anytime there was an ensemble performance. The extra voices added the depth and resonance that the other performances lacked, and the dancing was energetic and superb. Joyce Chittick’s choreography used a lot of synchronized hand and arm movements (the hand jive) in addition to traditional dance moves, and it was entertaining to watch.

Costumes were meticulously done, with colorful, full dresses adding an entire new dimension the choreography of the high school dance contest. Even in the more subdued scenes, the authenticity of the 50′s costumes stood out.

Set pieces were minimal; this musical was all about the singing and dancing. The exception was the “Greased Lightning” song. A beat up jalopy was transformed during the sequence, and it was the film’s flashiest sequence.

Lauren Elaine Taylor absolutely stole the show anytime she was on stage. She played Rizzo as sassy, brash, and tough. Taylor also nailed her solos; “There Are Worse Things I Could Do” gave me chills. She has a lot of stage presence, and based on the response of the crowd at the end, most audience members were in agreement.

This musical was actually quite funny-cast members seemed to have great comedic timing, and that was used to great effect. Dialogue was a mixture of word-for-word vignettes from the film (thanks to my photonovel, I know that) and newly written material.

Despite the flaws, Grease was a blast, and the final medley erased any misgivings I had. If you are not tapping your toe by the end of that number, you don’t have a pulse.

Rating 3.5/5 Directed by David O’Brien and choreographed by Joyce Chittick.

Grease will play at the Music Hall in Kansas City through February 27. For ticket information in Kansas City visit the Broadway Across America website or any Ticketmaster outlet.

For the rest of the touring itinerary, click here.


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One Response to “ Musical Review: ‘Grease’ at Kansas City Music Hall ”

  1. Bev Hood on February 25, 2011 at 1:05 pm

    Great reading your review Shannon – Grease is a favorite – I’ve seen it on stage several times over the years, brings back lots of memories of the 50′s.