Paramount stages super-slick 'Grease'
The Paramount Theatre in Aurora confidently launched its second full season of self-produced Broadway musicals with the 1972 smash hit "Grease."
No doubt the show's legions of fans, who are usually exposed to "Grease" via the 1978 blockbuster film, will be pleased -- especially since the added film songs like "Hopelessly Devoted" and "You're the One That I Want" have been interpolated in.
And the Paramount's production team, securely led by director Michael Unger, definitely put on a finely produced "Grease" that wows with its sophisticated stagecraft and a vocally assured cast who can riff rock 'n' roll melismas to stratospheric heights.
But I must confess that I am not a "Grease" fan.
Sure, the 1950s pop-influenced score by Jim Jacobs and Warren Casey is full of catchy songs like "Summer Nights" and "Freddy, My Love." But without any firsthand nostalgia for the 1950s to fuel an affinity for the era, "Grease" just comes off as a poorly plotted vehicle with period-sounding ditties that largely halt the action instead of advancing the story. And I've never taken to the musical's underacheiving teenagers, deliberately written to be crude and callous.
The one real note of drama comes with the pregnancy scare of Betty Rizzo (a tart Jessica Kingsdale), which is too easily written off by the next scene. And the good girl, Sandy Dumbrowski (an endearing Emma Ritchie), incomprehensively decides at the very moment she learns of Rizzo's troubling news to give into peer pressure and embrace a more sexualized bad-girl persona to win over the affections of attractive cool kid Danny Zuko (Skyler Adams, who plays against type by not adopting a tough-guy Brooklyn accent).
Yet, I have to admit that Paramount Theatre has put on a rousing production of the show. Set and projection designer James Dardenne constantly wows with his versatile and multilevel playing area that prominently features a vintage car that rolls on and rotates onstage as "Greased Lightnin.'" It's a great set piece for the Burger Palace Boys, led by the energetic Kenickie of Adrian Aguilar, to sing and dance on.
Music director Michael Keefe and choreographer Dana Solimando also drive the action along with plenty of enthusiasm and thrilling production numbers that reach a pinnacle in the frenetic "Born to Hand Jive" sequence that shows off the ensemble's tireless dancing skills (particularly the flexible Patty Simcox of Shanna Heverly and limber Cha-Cha DiGregorio of Jaclyn Burch).
Despite the cartoonlike tone of the script and fantasy sequences (particularly the enjoyably staged "Beauty School Dropout" and "Those Magic Changes"), director Unger does root the production with some realism, which gives this "Grease" a bit of genuine bite.
And as I mentioned before, the legions of "Grease" fans out there will find plenty to love in Paramount's spiffy rendition.
"Grease"★ ★ ★
Location: Paramount Theatre, 8 E. Galena Blvd., Aurora. (630) 896-6666 or paramountaurora.com.
Showtimes: 1:30 and 7:30 p.m. Wednesday; 7:30 p.m. Thursday; 8 p.m. Friday; 4 and 8 p.m. Saturday; 1 and 5 p.m. Sunday (no shows Oct. 3 or 4) through Oct. 7
Running time: 2 hours with an intermission
Parking: Area parking garages and metered street parking
Rating: Brief male nudity (depending upon angle), crude gestures, sexual euphemisms that may or may not go over the heads of younger audiences.