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Grease -04/26/1999

Book, music and lyrics by Jim Jacobs and Warren Casey. Cast includes: Ryan Williams, Lori Ann Strunk, Joanne Tatem, Christopher Maleug, Lynne Lewis, Wallace Broadnax, Erik Schark. Director: Ray DeMattis. Choreographer: Tony Parise. Scenic Designer: James Fouchard. Costume Designer: Marie Ann Chiment.

Lighting Designer: Mark O'Connor. Sound Designer: Kevin Higley. Musical Director/Conductor: Helen Gregory.

Troika Enterprises in association with GREASE ALIVE, INC. Presented in Champaign by Jam Theatricals.

April 23, 1999 at the Assembly Hall, University of Illinois.


Nostalgia is a curious thing.

As early as the 70's, with "Happy Days" on TV and "Grease" on Broadway, Americans seemed to be hankering for the poodle skirts, bebop and duck tails of the 1950's.

Maybe it's human nature to look back and think that what once was must be better, more innocent, less threatening than what is.

But that's the odd thing about "Grease" -- it focuses on the tough, cool kids, the ones who smoked and swore and stole hubcaps. Ozzie, Harriet and the Beav are nowhere to be found. The basic plot concerns how nice girl Sandy, as fresh and perky as Sandra Dee, chooses to channel her inner Leather Vixen in order to win hot stud Danny Zuko.

It's best not to worry about the details -- "Grease" really doesn't fool with much in the way of coherent story threads -- and instead look at what has kept "Grease" so popular for the last twenty years.

Kids still love the unpretentious pop-rock score, silly jokes, sock-hop style dancing, and pseudo-50's look -- from leather jackets to letter sweaters, from beauty school drop-out Frenchy's bouffant to Danny's slicked-back DA.

That's all on display -- plus a bright, shiny jukebox of a set -- inthe Troika tour that hit the Assembly Hall. Blessed with big, bold voices all around, this touring company showed off snazzy production values and a sunny disposition, even in the face of some uneven first-half amplification and a rather flat audience reception.

The leads -- Ryan Williams as a cocky, cool and very handsome Danny, and Lori Ann Strunk as a spunky, appealing Sandy -- were especially strong. Williams sounded wonderful on his "Alone at the Drive-in Movie" lament, while Strunk's "It's Raining on Prom Night" and "Look at Me, I'm Sandra Dee" were both charming.

In support, Derek McMahon and Kimberly Warden stood out as Roger, one of the nicer greasers, and Jan, the chubby Pink Lady, combining for a cute "Mooning" song.

But it was the Teen Angel who stopped the show. As a messenger from above who drops in to offer educational counseling, Wallace Broadnax did an amazing Little Richard-James Brown combo that electrified the Hall.

All in all, I'm not sure that "Grease" is appropriate for as many of the under-ten crowd as it seems to attract, given its fondness for sex, cigarettes, sex, petty delinquency, possible pregnancy, sex, good girls who go bad, and more sex.

Still, this production's talented cast did their best to put on an energetic, colorful show.

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