“Grease”

By Jae-Ha Kim
Chicago Sun-Times
Feb. 8, 1999

It was a dirtier, raunchier “Grease” that opened Friday night at the Rosemont Theatre.

One of the cast members hid a lit cigarette between his buttocks, inciting another  to ask, “Is that a cigarette butt I see?” And even good girl Sandy took a swing at bad girl Rizzo.

And, surprisingly enough, it worked.

The ubiquitous musical has long been overshadowed by the memory of the charming 1978 film version, which starred John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John. But the entertaining cast did what it could with the well-worn plot.

Synopsis: Greaser Danny Zuko (Todd DuBail) has a summer romance with sweet Sandy Dumbrowski (Sandy Rustin). When they bump into each other in high school, Danny hides his true feelings for her because he’s afraid of looking uncool in front of his buddies. Trying to impress her, Danny joins the track team and becomes a letterman. But in the end, it’s Sandy who trades in her poodle skirt for a skin-tight getup designed to jump start his heart.

Never mind the obvious message that this play sends: that the girl has to tramp herself up to get the boy, while the boy returns to his old self. This is a play where you have to suspend good sense. Otherwise, too many things would bother you.

For instance, why would Sandy want to befriend the trashy Pink Ladies anyhow? Sure, they date the greasers and Danny is a greaser. But boys want what they can’t have, and that would be girls like Sandy.

DuBail and Rustin are an attractive couple. Their scene at the drive-in when a frustrated Danny tried to get to second base with Sandy had the audience laughing and clapping (though some of the younger kids seemed confused by all the commotion).

After spending most of the evening singing harmonies and talking tough as Rizzo, Joanne Tatem got to shine with her solo, “There Are Worse Things I Could Do.” Her strong, clear voice conveyed the heartbreak of a girl who can’t be defined by a “bad girl” label.

And Frankie Avalon reprised his “Grease” film role as Teen Angel. His deliciously hammy turn with “Beauty School Dropout” worked better live than in the movie.

At the end of the play, Avalon returned to sing a 10-minute medley of hits including “Venus,” “Ginger Bread” and “De De Dinah.” Though he joked about Dick Clark being the world’s oldest teenager, Avalon didn’t look much different than he did during his ’50s “Beach Blanket Bingo” heyday.

The former teen idol played the consummate performer, venturing into the crowd and shaking hands with children and giving screaming ladies the occasional hug and kiss on the cheek.

Younger readers who can’t quite imagine the hysteria: Try to imagining the brothers in Hanson singing “MMMBop” and doling out kisses in 2040.

February 8, 1999

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