Grease (Santa Rosa)
Santa Rosa’s 6th Street Playhouse’s 2013/2014 season comes to a close with a disappointing production of “Grease”, based on the 1972 Broadway musical which was then adapted into the tremendously popular 1978 John Travolta/Olivia Newton-John film. The original theatrical musical is a little coarser, a little cruder and a somewhat different show than what was put up on the screen. The original version as directed by Staci Arriaga is what is being presented by the Playhouse so be prepared to be a little thrown by what you see and hear coming from the 6th Street stage.
The basics of the story are the same. ‘Greaser’ Danny Zuko (Anthony Guzman) meets “good girl’ Sandy Dumbrowski (Amanda Pederson) over summer vacation and romance ensues. The beginning of the school year finds them both attending Rydell High and Danny soon finds himself pulled between his desire to be with Sandy and his desire to hang with his buddy Kenickie (Trevor Hoffmann) and the rest of the Burger Palace Boys. Sandy finds herself welcomed to Rydell by the Pink Ladies, the female equivalent of the Burger Boys, lead by Rizzo (Kayla Kearney).
You know the rest of the story – picnic, boy loses girl, boy tries to change, sock hop, hand jive, dance contest, rumble, girl changes, boy gets girl – slight variations from the film but the same basic story and all set to a familiar soundtrack.
Well, almost familiar soundtrack. Have you ever really listened to the lyrics? Here’s an example:
With a four-speed on the floor, they’ll be waitin’ at the door
You know that ain’t shit when we’ll be gettin’ lots of tit
Not quite the family-friendly show you remember? No worries. They’ll be doing a youth version of the show this summer that I’m sure has been severely edited for younger audiences.
It’s not the tone of this show or the grittier components that led to my disappointment with it. It is simply how this show was executed with regard to all the performance elements – acting, singing and dancing.
Guzman and Pedersen, who both have fine voices, displayed zero chemistry together and there was little to no sense of any attraction between the characters beyond the dialogue. This was particularly surprising as they are probably playing characters as close to their real age as they’ll ever get a chance to do and that should have helped. Their characters were flat and surprisingly tame.
The leads did not connect with each other; consequently they didn’t connect with the songs. The songs were delivered capably but without heart or a palpable sense of passion. And I am growing weary of attending musicals where performers confuse belting a song and hitting a high note with delivering a song with feeling. Too many performers and directors, in their zeal for a ‘showstopping’ number, fail to recognize that such a moment can also be delivered quietly and with meaning. Volume is not the determining factor.
There were some performers who did connect with their characters and material. Kayla Kearney did strong work as Rizzo and was quite effective in her “There Are Worse Things I Could Do” number. Sidney McNulty and Adam Blankenship as Frenchy and Doody hit all the right notes, both in acting and in singing. They were the couple on stage that you bought into.
Most surprising to me was the lackluster choreography in this production. Staci Arriaga, the director and choreographer, has been teaching dance for 23 years and choreographing musicals throughout the Bay Area for the last 18 years. You wouldn’t know that based on this show as most numbers were unimaginatively choreographed or simply a recreation of what was done in the film. It may have been that the demands that come with doing both jobs were simply too much, as neither job was done very well. Many scenes between musical numbers were dull and lifeless. The ‘slumber party scene’, for example, seemed to run on and on. Other scenes played at a leaden pace. Actors seemed to be standing around waiting for the next moment rather than being in the moment. This was Arriaga’s first directorial effort, and while Artistic Director Craig Miller should be credited for giving a “newbie” a chance to direct, I suspect it would have been a better show if she had focused on one job or the other.
Technically, the show looks and sounds good. Scenic design, lighting design, and costume design all compliment this show well. Musical Director Nathan Riebli conducts a seven piece band that seemed to be having a good ol’ time playing a ‘50’s rock n’roll score that’s heavy on the sax. It was a pleasure to listen to them.
But technical elements can only carry a show so far. “Grease” has its moments, but those moments are few and far between. While “Grease” may still be the “word”, to this reviewer the “word” for this “Grease” is “mediocre”.
Evenings Thu, Fri, Sat @ 8:00pm Matinees Sat & Sun @ 2pm through July 6
6th Street Playhouse
52 W. 6th Street
Santa Rosa, CA 95401
Photos by Eric Chazankin