By Ted Hoover
Pittsburgh Current Theater Critic
I have to tell you – I don’t even know where to begin with this one. Plant your feet on something solid, grab my hand and let’s see if we can get through this thing together.
Pittsburgh CLO presents the musical Grease – sort of the way President Trump presented Herman Cain as his nominee for the Fed; you’re so slacked-jawed by the offer you can’t find words to express the horror.
Grease continues through June 16. Benedum Center for the Performing Arts, Downtown. 412/456-6666. www.pittsburghclo.org
In the late 1960’s Jim Jacobs and Warren Casey developed a small show about teenage life in the 1950s. It was called Grease and debuted in a nightclub in Chicago before ultimately moving to Broadway in 1971 where it became, for a while, the longest running musical in Broadway’s history.
That original show was biting satire of the ’50s with crude humor and punchy songs suited to the cynicism of the ’70s.
In 1978, however, the show was turned into a musical with Olivia Newton-John and John Travolta. It was a huge hit because, among other things, they threw out most of the satire, considerably sanded down the rough edges, tossed in lots of feel-good sentimentality and became a valentine to the 50s.
Since then the show has been revived a few times in New York, it’s a staple at community and summer theaters around the country, there was a much-hated movie sequel and it was even one of those recent live-broadcast TV musicals.
And, apparently, at every stop along this entertainment death march someone involved has cut something off, adding something new, changed this character or that lyric or this scene or that number until the whole thing resembles a Frankenstein’s Monster just disinterred from the loamy earth. And it’s this sodden mixture which lands on the stage at the Benedum Center … much like unattended afterbirth would on a delivery room floor.
Just to be clear; it is not my intention to accuse the Pittsburgh CLO of actually crafting this fetid brew – but surely when the licensing agent sent a perusal copy to someone at the CLO must have expressed alarm, if only out of concern for their karma.
I can’t really even describe it. The whole thing is less than two hours because most of the dialogue and almost all of the story has been amputated. Basically, you have a group of polished singers and dancers performing “Highlights from Grease.”
In the rare instance when the characters do speak it makes almost no sense and musical numbers start because … well, because they do. You could easily shuffle the songs from the first act into the second, or the other way around, and it wouldn’t make the slightest bit of difference.
I think, though I could be miles off, that what someone somewhere in the long gestation period of this “script” wanted to do was recreate the movie version on stage … some of the choreography and several of the costumes have been lifted directly from the film. Additionally songs written for the movie have been wedged into this version. And at any point when the new material clashed with the old material everything except the songs was tossed out. As I write this I’m thinking the best to be said about this iteration is that it serves as a trailer for a 40-year-old movie — the songs you remember with little snippets of “story” you forced yourself to forget.
As for this production and the performers, directed and choreographed by CLO stalwart veteran Barry Ivan … yinz got through it. Congratulations. And to expect anything else would be inhuman.
An entertaining cast includes Zach Adkins and Kristen Martin as Danny and Sandy, Vince Oddo and Jackie Burns as Kenickie and Rizzo. Clay Aiken shows up in a cameo performance as “Teen Angel” and the army of additional singers/dancers have each put in more energy, integrity and commitment than anyone involved with this excuse for a script.