Ya gotta smile when you think of GREASE, most notably due to Travolta and Newton-John and the other well sculpted stereotypes of the '50's dancing down the halls of Rydell High.
We think of GREASE as electric and kinetic. That is why director Bruce Lumpkin should employ a surge protector to connect the scenes. This production lacks magnetic and voltaic continuum. At times Lumpkin suspends the energy generated from this dynamic cast, getting in the way of the fast paced and endearing story we have come to love. This 'bummed me out'!
The opening scene is an example. The buzz from the fun show we are about to witness quiets as the curtain opens. A teacher enters and welcomes us in a dull and momentum smothering three minutes. That character never reappears. And, at the end of Act I, the production number "We Go Together" lasts about half the time it should. The audience is just getting into it to create buzz for Act II and - as quick as you can say Hand Jive - boom, the number is over and we feel forlorn and well.... alone at the drive-in movie.
It is not that the cast is not superbly talented and the dancing under Michelle Gaudette is not exciting. "Summer Nights" was beautifully sung and acted by Danny, Sandy and the teenagers. Michael Warrell (Kenickie) leads his guys in the quintessential 'burnin' rubber' version of "Greased Lightning". "Mooning" (one of this writer's favorite college past times) led by Adolpho Blaire (Roger) and Jan (Tara Tagliaferro) had the audience literally ' bending' over in their seats.
Matthew Ragas (Danny) and Laura Giknis (Sandy) have not only great chemistry but outrageously wonderful voices. Most of the girls at Rydell would not object to Danny 'coppin' a feel'. Sandy's character is less predominant in the stage play but she certainly turns heads in the finale "You're The One That I Want."
The third most ingrained character from the movie is Stockard Channing's Rizzo, the 'smokin' chick with the checkered past. Kate Fahrner goes a long way in making us forget the former. While there might have been a tad more soul searching in "There Are Worse Things I Could Do", her multi-octave voice far exceeds Channing.
Speaking of octaves.....wow, Teen Angel (Eric Kunze), his voice was 'far out' in the stratosphere. Just as one thought he could not go to another level, there he was in full vocal support. His credits include Broadway stints of Marius in LES MIS and a tour as the lead in JC SUPERSTAR.
Eugene (Nate Golden) was great as the 'spaz', horned rimmed glasses and all. The hair styles were so much fun, especially the pompadours.
While the opening night audience didn't go 'ape' over the show, it was still 'a gas'. The Walnut is in its 205th season. Producing Artistic Director Bernard Havard told me that Edwin Booth, the brother of the infamous one...was a partner in the theatre in the late 1860's.
Through July 14 WalnutTheatre.org 800.982.2787