AISLE SAY Philadelphia


Book, Music and Lyrics by Jim Jacobs and Warren Casey
Directed by Ray DeMattis
Starring Frankie Avalon
The Academy of Music, Avenue of the Arts, Philadelphia, PA
Playing through June 22, 2003
Kimmel Center Box Office: (215) 893-1999

Reviewed by Claudia Perry

Going to this National Tour of "Grease" is a little like going to a Vaudeville show. Because for the price of a ticket, Phoenix Productions gives you a lot for your money. You get a Dance Contest starting at 7:30 run by Arthur J. M. Callahan who plays Vince Fontaine in the show proper. The pre-show warm-up ends with a taped version of Barry Gibb's "Grease" from the movie which Mr. Callahan encourages everyone to sing and clap along with. Tee shirts are given away to the lucky two dance couples (last night consisting of two really little girls aged four and five and a mom and her 10 year-old daughter). Then you get the show, "Grease" with two great songs from the film, "Hopelessly Devoted to You" and "You're the One That I Want" by John Farrar. Then when the show is over and the cast has taken their bows they launch into a mini-reprise of the show's highlights ñ but now with the band cranked up to ear splitting decibels. But wait, it's not over yet, this is all an elaborate Vegas style intro for Frankie Avalon to take his bow ñ which he does, most graciously, insisting that we applaud once again for the hard working cast. But Mr. Avalon hasn't come out just to take a bow. No folks, like I said you get a lot for your money here. Mr. Avalon then proceeds to tell a few jokes, sing a few songs and chat with the audience for another ten minutes (while the cast sits behind him crooning background vocals). And if that isn't enough, we even get to see Bobby Rydell, who is sitting in the audience, stand up and take a bow. (This was just for Press Night to plug Frankie and Bobby's nightclub act in Atlantic City.) The little reprise to announce Mr. Avalon is completely unnecessary as Mr. Avalon is terrific in the show and will receive a warm ovation from any audience, regardless of whether it's his hometown or not. But I guess they felt they had to give "the star" a big buildup.

The one thing I find irritating is that the producers are trying to push this show as a "family show", which it categorically is not and never was. Unless of course you want your kids coming away with the moral that: If you cave in to peer pressure, smoke cigarettes, drink, wear provocative clothing and "put out", you'll get the boy of your dreams. Hey, they'll learn these things soon enough. Why rush it? "Grease" is a funny, crass, sometimes vulgar parody of the 1950's with a great score and that's what makes it tick. So leave the little kiddies at home. Parental Discretion is advised for teens. There's probably nothing they haven't already seen or heard in a PG-13 Movie, although we do see Roger's (Rump's) bare buttocks. Well, he does sing a song about mooning for heaven's sake.

But let's talk about the star of this show in his cameo role as Teen Angel. I have never been a Frankie Avalon fan until now. Mr. Avalon is flawless. It's kind of hard to believe that he sang "Beauty School Dropout" in the film, "Grease" twenty-five years ago, but those are the facts. I guess there is something to be said for clean living, because twenty-five years later Mr. Avalon still sounds terrific, looks terrific and possesses all the grace, poise and charm of a man who was born to be an entertainer. So having him come out and do a bit of his act at the end of the show was not only a nice surprise but also a real treat for the audience.

But the main reason why this "Grease" is a good time is because of the excellent cast. Vocally they are all non-pareil . And though it seems they have been encouraged to push their acting style "over the top", still their vocal ability and sheer energy are quite winning. Jamey Isenor is a great Danny Zuko with a powerful voice and great comic timing. He's also tall and buff. Gee, what more could you ask for in a leading man? Hanna-Lina Vosa is sweet and appealing as Sandy Dumbrowski in a way that is very human and not at all caricaturish. Her voice is lovely, and one of the few "real" moments in the show is when she comes out by herself and sings, "Hopelessly Devoted to You." Jacqueline Colmer possesses an awesome vocal instrument and does it justice in her solo, "There are Worse Things I Could Do." I also felt her portrayal of bad girl Rizzo was rooted in a nice reality.

For me, it's the choreography by Christopher Gattelli that keeps this show fun and clever. Unfortunately, the costumes were highly unattractive and downright "wrong" for the period, with the girls' dress hemlines being way too short. I'm sure the choreographer didn't mind -- as it makes it easier for the ladies to dance in ñ but this is not supposed to be the sixties. And the wigs sported by Frenchy were ridiculously large. The sets by James Youmans are simple and cartoonish, with a big neon sign of "Grease" flying from the ceiling before and after the show. The orchestrations seem to have a decidedly more modern twist this time around. Though they don't list the band members in the program and I forgot to look in the pit, I don't think the band is very large. But they really cook and make a hell of a lot of noise ñ in fact at times a bit too much. Sometimes they have to remember that they are "accompanying" the singers. Sorry, guys, that's why you're in "the pit" and not on stage.

In case you didn't know, just a reminder that "Summer Nights", "We Go Together", "Greased Lightnin'" and "Alone at the Drive-in Movie" all come from this fun score. So if you're looking for a purely entertaining evening or a great date show ñ this is it.

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