Needs Oil, But Still Burns Rubber: GREASE

Photo © Paul Lyden

Photo © Paul Lyden

Presented by North Shore Music Theatre
Book, music, lyrics by Warren Casey & Jim Jacobs
Directed by Mark Martino
Music directed by Craig Barna
Choreographed by Mark Stuart

August 12th – August 24th, 2014
Beverly, MA
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Review by Craig Idlebrook

(Beverly, MA) The backstory behind the script for the musical “Grease” is that writers Jim Jacobs and Warren Casey locked themselves away to write a bunch of 50’s era songs, and then tried to piece together a plot to fit the songs together. This sounds like a recipe for a disaster of a script, and for a long time I personally thought the plot flimsy and vacant.

But as the North Shore Music Theatre’s production of the show helps illuminate, “Grease” in some ways does more than most scripts to capture the teenage herd’s experience. It good-naturedly laughs at the heartbreaking teenage drama of high school. The binding of this show is the coupling and estrangement and recoupling of the leader of the pack, Danny Zuko (Matthew Ragas), and his summertime girlfriend, Sandy Dumbrowski (Ephie Aardema), but this plot point is just one focus. The teen pack find plenty of time to explore the mysteries of tribalism, sex, and how to avoid schoolwork, and sometimes they just have a party for the hell of it. The almost anecdotal script makes sense when you think of how anecdotal teenage life can be.

There are few adults who see “Grease” who don’t recognize their own embarrassing foibles, and it would make us cringe were it not for Jacobs’ and Casey’s (as well as, later, the Bee Gees’) ability to provide the joyous soundtrack to our ridiculousness. This cast expertly dances and sings through the repertoire, leaving us uplifted while watching the spectacle of teenagehood unfold.

The script doesn’t fare as well in this production. The show I watched was the opening of the run, and it was clear that the actors were still trying to hit their marks at times. Lines were flubbed, props were dropped, and the impressive energy on stage flagged towards the end (one assumes this will improve during the run). No one takes any chances with their characters, either; this production is designed to be a crowd-pleaser, and there was little room for straying far from expectations. However, both Ragas and Gerianne Perez (Rizzo) manage to own the show whenever they step onstage. Finally, there are wincing moments of racism and sexism that can sometimes be hard to overlook, showing the darker side of teenage tribalism.

But overall, whenever doubt creeps in for the characters onstage and the audience, the cast lets loose with another crowd pleasing number, and we are thrown back to a time when we proclaimed we knew everything, but were afraid we knew nothing.

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