Grease, the iconical coming of age high school musical, that was born in Chicago in 1971 then went on to Broadway glory in 1973 and following that became the highest-grossing musical film of its time in the Olivia Newton-John and John Travolta 1978 film version, is back in a new revival at the Marriott Theatre in Lincolnshire.
It seems that this tribute to the late 1950’s rock ’n’ roll just keeps going on, not unlike the Energizer Bunny, who was just inducted into the Madison Avenue Walk of Fame.
What’s different about the Marriott revival is that director Scott Weinstein has not forgotten the origin of Grease. “I grew up on Grease and getting to direct it for the first time and at the Marriott Theatre is a real thrill,” Weinstein says explaining “it premiered here in Chicago nearly 50 years ago and still has so much to say about growing up, teenage rebellion, pop culture and of course, rock ‘n roll. I can’t wait to explore this timeless rock musical in the city for which it was meant.
Taking a look back at the original book, music and lyrics by Chicago native Jim Jacobs and Warren Casey, Weinstein adds some of the grit from the 1971 Chicago production at Kingston Mines along with some Chicago landmarks.
Hanging above the Marriott’s theatre-in-the-round stage there’s the 1950’s Walgreens and Jewel signs. A reference is made to Lake Forest Academy and although not named directly Chicago neighborhoods (especially, the northwest side, Harwood Heights area), Chicago beaches (Foster Avenue beach) and Chicago haunts are lurking in the shadows.
For the few people who might not know or remember what Grease is all about--the story focuses on senior year at Rydell High School (based on Chicago’s Taft High where writer Jacobs was a student) and specifically the Pink Ladies and their male equivalents, the T-birds.
The Marriott revival is peppered with a talented cast surrounding the attractive leads, Jimmy Nicholos as Danny Zuko and Leryn Turington as Sandy Dumbrowski--both of whom bear a striking resemblance to their 1978 film counterparts, Sandy (Netwon-John) and Danny (Travolta).
Other cast members from Jacqueline Jones’ powerful Rizzo to what’s not to love, Landree Fleming’s hilarious Frenchy are spot-on.y
Jonathan Butler-Duplessis provides a show stopping moment as the larger-than-life Teen Angel with Frenchy and company as they explode onto the stage with “Beauty School Dropout.”
Another show stopper, is the transformation as of the shy, mousy Sandy into an imposing Pink Lady--in Weinstein updated version--created for today--where she no longer changes for Danny but changes for herself. Whether this change is evident is debatable--but a nice try.
Marty, of the Pink Ladies, is beautifully portrayed by Michelle Lauto while pink lady, Jan played by Tiffany T. Taylor adds the perfect humorous touch with Jessica Palkovic as Cha-Cha DiGregorio is quite the dancer.
The T-Birds, including Kevin Corbett, Michael Kurowski, Jack Cahill-Lemme and Jake Elkins keep things rock’n and roll’n. Eugene by Garrett Lutz is the perfect nerd while cheerleader Patty Simcox by Alaina Wis comes across as one of those girls you love to hate in high school.
The songs including “Summer Nights” (originally Foster Beach), "Greased Lightning,” “Look at Me, I’m Sandra Dee,” and “There Are Worse Things I Could Do” are what keep many coming back for more.
Although a lot has changed since 1959, making parts the musical dated and politically incorrect, taken in its context, it is still a crowd-pleaser.