The Dayton Playhouse’s entertaining production of Jim Jacobs and Warren Casey’s 1972 musical “Grease” lacks authenticity where it counts.
Most people assume “Grease” is an easy show to do because the tuneful music fuels the story and the characters are instantly relatable. However, you have to rely on specific types to truly sell the cool factor inherent in the comedic material set in and around Rydell High School in the late 1950s. Director Tina McPhearson assembles a committed cast but there’s too much caricature and not enough character evident in key roles to propel the staging beyond its odd spoof mentality. Granted, due to the slightly clunky, vignette-esque storytelling structure of the original libretto (the Playhouse isn’t using the revised libretto incorporating familiar songs from the popular 1978 film) it can be a challenge for some actors to dig deep and find a three-dimensional purpose in their characterizations. Even so, it isn’t an impossible task, particularly when you consider the emotional unease sweethearts Danny Zuko and Sandy Dumbrowski (a mismatched, reserved Bobby Mitchum and Amanda Carter) should be feeling at almost every turn as they clumsily try to make sense of their newfound relationship while coping with peer pressure. In the same regard, there are complex layers simmering within the playful yet testy bond between roughneck Kenickie and his sarcastic girlfriend Betty Rizzo (perplexingly inhabited by a surprisingly off-kilter Desmond Thomas and Kelli Locker) simply left unexplored.
Nevertheless, as the horny Burger Palace Boys and sassy Pink Ladies bicker and banter with risqué tendencies, fully realized portrayals still arise from a few principals. Tyler Henry, even stronger here than in “The Fantasticks” four months ago, is straightforwardly charming as sensitive guitarist Doody. Max Santucci, in his musical theater debut as Sonny LaTierri, solidly creates character in his speaking voice alone without lessening the believability or impact of his performance. Naman Clark (Roger) and the mature-beyond-her-years Tori Kocher (Jan) are a delightful hoot in “Mooning.” Allie Jackson (Marty) and Emily Church (Frenchy) firmly assist in humor and spirit. Appealing supporting work is offered by Theresa Kahle (Miss Lynch), Melanie Barrett (Patty Simcox), Tyler Smith (Eugene Florczyk), Malcolm Casey (Vince Fontaine), William Scarborough (a very suave, period appropriate Johnny Casino), Tamar Fishbein (Cha-Cha DiGregorio), and strikingly smooth tenor Andrew Spoon (Teen Angel).
Elsewhere, choreographer Paige Hanshaw’s energetic routines are a huge asset, particularly the high spirited “Alma Mater Parody,” “We Go Together,” “Born to Hand Jive,” and special addition/finale “You’re the One That I Want.” Scenic designer Chris Newman’s retro set wonderfully recalls high school exteriors of yesteryear. Steve Burton, Tim Grewe and McPhearson supply terrific costumes and wigs, especially for the comical “Beauty School Dropout.” Musical director Nancy Perrin leads a small yet steady orchestra.
This “Grease” falls short but the songs will keep you engaged nonetheless.
“Grease” continues through May 17 at the Dayton Playhouse, 1301 E. Siebenthaler Ave., Dayton. Performances are Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 2 p.m. Act One: 50 minutes; Act Two: 55 minutes. Tickets are $18 for adults and $16 for seniors and students. For tickets or more information, call (937) 424-8477 or visit online at www.daytonplayhouse.com.