It dawned on me a few minutes into the first act of "Grease" Friday night that I'd been wrong about this musical for a long time — basically since 1978, when it was the basis of a tedious and goofy movie.
The stage version of Rydell High's most notorious teen love affair is also goofy. It was first produced in 1971 and then revised after the movie appeared. But done right, it's not tedious. Not by a long shot.
And the production that opened last weekend at Chanhassen Dinner Theatres is done right. It's directed, designed, costumed and choreographed right, and above all it's cast right.
The appealing Aleks Knezevich and Caroline Innerbichler as Danny and Sandy head up a group of actors who are perfectly suited to this show. Knezevich has an impressive vocal range (and looks a bit like John Travolta, but we shouldn't hold that against him). Innerbichler's singing voice is clear, strong and pitch-perfect.
From almost the first song, "Summer Nights," it's clear that this show is going to be fun to watch. Knezevich and Innerbichler have great chemistry and expressive eyes, in addition to their fine voices.
On the big dance numbers, like "We Go Together" and "Greased Lightning," the cast executes Tamara Kangas Erickson's choreography with crack precision, but never at the expense of the lyrics. Their performance makes the film's kinda-sorta lip-syncing look sloppy by comparison. (Not that "Grease" deserves any more blame than many other movie musicals. Whatever you think of the film adaptation of "Les Miserables," give director Tom Hooper credit for having the actors actually sing their songs on camera. What a concept.)
Sold as I was on the first act, I wasn't prepared for the second, when Teen Angel came along and stole a show I thought had been stolen already.
If you don't remember the character from the movie — I didn't — maybe it's because he appeared in a not-very-memorable performance by Frankie Avalon. At Chanhassen, he's played with ultracool flair by Kasano Mwanza. The Angel counsels Frenchy (Shinah Brashears) in "Beauty School Dropout" to get a grip on herself and finish high school.
If you're looking for social commentary in "Grease," it's thin, like the plot. As the story opens, Danny and Sandy are pining for each other after their summer romance, unaware that they now attend the same school. They meet again. Now they must see whether they can fall in love with each other's regular selves, as opposed to their summer selves.
That's the plot. The commentary, such as it is, revolves around social expectations and peer pressure. The girls ask Sandy, "Was it love at first sight?" To Danny, the boys instead ask: "Did she put up a fight?" Director Michael Brindisi points out in the program notes that 1959 was the beginning of the sexual revolution, and that "Grease" is a "snapshot of our past."
Maybe so, but a snapshot would be boring to watch. This show is delightful. "Grease" is at Chanhassen through October.
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