In last night's opening performance of Hoof `N' Horn's "Grease," some things didn't go together like ramma-lamma-lamma ding-dong.
Imagine a space shuttle launch pad and bobbing portraits of Marilyn Monroe, Elvis Presley and James Dean against a blue, sometimes magenta sky. This is the set of Hoof `N' Horn's unconventional version of America's favorite politically incorrect musical.
Chief among the flaws of this R-rated version is the lack of chemistry between leads Danny Zuko and Sandy Dumbrowski, played by Canadian exchange student Johnny Connon and Trinity freshman Leah Dietz. The character of Danny may well be primarily hormone-driven; however, Connon only acts with his pelvis. Dietz has a beautiful voice, but seems turned off by Danny rather than in love.
In romantic numbers like "Summer Nights" and "All Choked Up," the vibrant chorus often drowns out the core couple, obscuring the flirtation and happy ending that define the musical.
Overall, vocals are inconsistent. Engineering freshman Steve Barnett (Doody) wavers through "Those Magic Changes." Meanwhile, the Pink Ladies provide a less than audible harmony behind Trinity senior Julie Cohen (Marty) in "Freddy, My Love."
The energy in the big numbers, however, is contagious. Last night, applause resounded after the testosterone-filled "Greased Lightning," upbeat "We Go Together" and spunky "Born to Hand Jive."
The choreography of Trinity junior Jenn McCall and the orchestral direction of Trinity sophomore Brian Rathbun are consistently reliable elements throughout the show.
Big belters shine in the limelight. The adorable Roger and Jan (Engineering junior Dave Torgerson and Trinity junior Meghan Shanaphy) steal scenes, especially in their bubbling rendition of "Mooning."
Trinity freshman Dana Kling (Teen Angel) performs a flawless "Beauty School Dropout," even while temporarily suspended in mid-air by ropes. Trinity senior Jessica Bier (Rizzo) is equally brilliant in both her solos, particularly the passionate "There Are Worse Things I Could Do."
Minor problems included varying mike levels--sometimes off, sometimes scratchy, sometimes squealing. The audience found humor in other goofs, such as Cha-Cha (Trinity junior Julie Goodman) tripping over her torn net skirt and a lack of sync among the dancers in "Born to Hand Jive."
Ironically, director Jay Woffington, Trinity junior, introduces his production in the program notes as a nostalgic piece. However, by using an avant-garde set, he places this 50s period piece in a 90s setting, losing much of the original charm of "Grease." Any attempt to renovate such a tried-and-true musical is daring and brave. But by thrusting his cast into an alien landscape, Woffington weakens the very sense of nostalgia which he rightly identifies as central to the musical.
Also, the "rousing satire" Woffington intends to present is so exaggerated that it mocks not only teenage life in the 50s, but also all the preceding conventional productions of the musical. The overacting comes off more as a satire of "Grease" itself than as a satire of high school in the 50s. Flicking the third finger, libido action and profanity are emphasized more than the tension between Danny and Sandy.
Though one might argue that the musical is full of two-dimensional characters, Hoof `N' Horn's presentation is one-dimensional. The Greasers thrust their crotches and the Pink Ladies wiggle their butts until the next big number. Comic stereotypes like "the principal,'' "the nerd'' and "the airhead'' are downplayed and take a back seat to making out. Vulgar and risque additions got a few laughs, but the total effect is a ridiculously oversexed student body.
If the minor flaws are cleaned up, the big numbers alone could carry the show. However, the current overall look and feel of this production score less than a "wop-bom-a-loo-mop-a-lop, BAM BOOM."
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