UVSC’s production of “Grease” is schizophrenic: energetic and enthusiastic during the musical numbers, slow and almost lethargic in between. Unfortunately, that lethargy brings the whole show down, giving an overall feeling of tedium.
But when the music starts, the cast kicks it into high gear, doing some fabulous choreography designed by Kathie Debenham (watch Nathaniel C. Shaw in his many non-speaking but well-danced parts). Great singing voices are the norm here, too, with nary a weak link in the whole cast, vocally speaking.
Seth Child is earnest and likable as rebellious greaser Danny Zuko. His attempts to appear tough in front of Sandy (Andrea Walker) are transparent, as he’s simply too sweet in his unguarded moments. (That’s not a criticism, either. I like Danny as a nice guy who tries unsuccessfully to seem tough, rather than as a tough guy with a soft side.)
Brittany Thompson is a standout among the Pink Ladies, playing Marty — the one with the boyfriend in the military — with uncommon flair. She doesn’t just have attitude or a one-joke persona: She has a personality.
Also worthy of mention are Aaron DeJesus as Danny’s greaser buddy Sonny and Heidi Boyd as Patty. Both actors, like Thompson, display a knack for performing and a real confidence onstage.
Direction (by James Arrington) is a problem here, as one feels unsure how to take the whole thing. Overall, the energy is low as one scene just sort of dribbles into the next. Also, the big school dance scene is a mess, as focus is supposed to keep shifting from one of the several couples to the next. In order to do this, the actors need to take command of the stage to let the audience know they’re the center of attention now. This rarely happens, though, and we wind up continuing to watch one couple that has stopped doing anything simply because we don’t realize that someone else has started. The effect is the feeling that a million things are going on at once, none of them strong enough to grab your attention.
Furthermore, “Grease” was intended as a parody of the ’50s, meant to show that the white-washed decade was not as pure and wholesome as it’s been made out to be. In order to accept the appalling ending — bland Sandy decides to become trashy in order to win her man — we have to realize that it’s meant as a satire. But no feeling of satire comes through in this production.
In fact, despite earnestness on the part of everyone, and highly praiseworthy performances from a few, it’s not just the satire that doesn’t come through: Nothing comes through. We don’t know if we’ve just watched an homage to the ’50s, a slice of life from the ’50s, or a parody of the ’50s. We just know we’ve seen some fun musical numbers and a lot of talking in between.
I really wanted this show to be great. For years, UVSC had done shows but with very little publicity surrounding them. Now, for the first time, they were making an effort to let people know what they were doing, and I had even done a story for The Daily Herald about their upcoming season of five shows. Everything looked promising for them -- and then "Grease" opened the season unimpressively. Things got better, fortunately, with the next shows.