By D. A. Blackburn
You may have noticed an unusual phenomenon of late; everyday people dancing their way through the day, humming the unmistakable, infectious music of “Grease.” You can count me among them — to my own chagrin. If you’re wondering why, you need look no further than Detroit’s Fisher Theatre for an answer, as a fresh production of the much-loved classic opened there last Tuesday night.
I use the term “chagrin” because the opportunity to review “Grease,” which is directed and choreographed by Kathleen Marshall and features “American Idol” Taylor Hicks, brought with it a pang of trepidation. “Grease,” after all, has been around since 1971, and is, arguably, better remembered for its widely successful 1978 cinematic adaptation that featured an assortment of popular music not used in the original stage production. And, of course, John Travolta. But this new tour, born out of a recent Broadway revival, does, in fact, incorporate the additional music, along with a sensational cast, a great new opening to warm up the crowd and inspired, energetic dancing to create a production that’s anything but tired.
In this production (a coming-of-age love story set in the 1950s, for anyone who resides under a rock), the evening kicks off with a classic audience warm-up by Michigan-native Dominic Fortuna, in character as WAXX disc jockey Vince Fontaine. Fortuna showcases his four-octave range in a series of audience participation-heavy numbers before joining the rest of the ensemble in one of the night’s most memorable roles.
Likewise, Eric Schneider is superb as show-lead Danny Zuko, tackling both the music and dancing with zeal and grace. He’s also captured the ideal look for his character, right down to the perfectly slick pompadour.
Emily Padgett’s turn as Sandy Dumbrowski also earns good marks, particularly in the show’s pinnacle number, “You’re the One That I Want,” where she demonstrates exceptional talent — and flexibility — as a dancer.
But it’s not just in the lead roles that this “Grease” excels. Its casting has true depth, in that all of the well-known, much-loved peripheral roles come off just as they should — with razor sharp dancing, sharper wit and true musical prowess. Erin Henry’s Rizzo and Kate Morgan Chadwick’s Frenchy are highlights even amidst the roundly talented cast.
The top-billed Hicks’ appearance as Teen Angel is, perhaps, the weakest link, owing to an overly brisk pacing of “Beauty School Dropout” and poor use of a hand-held microphone, which produced a somewhat garbled delivery. His affable demeanor and natural charm, nevertheless, managed to win the crowd over, and earned a wave of applause. A post-curtain call performance from his new album was also well received.
In the end, there is just one bone to pick with this production: the sets. Most scenes have a flimsy, cartoonish feel, which would suffice, were it not for considerably more appealing scenery for Hicks’ appearance. On the whole, the set seems a bit sub-par for a production of this caliber, but let’s be honest: No one goes to “Grease” to see the sets. It’s all about the music and dancing, and in these respects, this tour shines.
Broadway in Detroit at the Fisher Theatre, 3011 W. Grand Blvd., Detroit. Tuesday through Sunday through June 28. $24-$79. 313-872-1000. http://www.broadwayindetroit.com