By Kay Kipling
There’s no getting away from it: All musical theater shows are not created equal. For any Manatee Players fan who saw last month’s epic—and impressive—production of Les Miserables, watching this month’s mainstage show, Grease, is like switching from a Porsche to—well, maybe a beat-up jalopy isn’t quite fair, but you get the picture.
Yes, comparisons are odious, but hard to avoid if you’re still remembering the highs of that recent Les Miz. Grease, while it’s been amazingly popular since it first bowed in 1972, is a show based purely on a collective nostalgia for those long-ago high school years, especially for the late 1950s. A few of the musical numbers are fun, but the characters are, intentionally, one-dimensional, with no real motivations to latch onto, and the plot could easily be written on a malt shop napkin.
That said, there are bright spots in the current show, directed by Jared E. Walker. Summer Nights gets things moving in the first act; Greased Lightning provides some athletic moves by the guys; and the high school hop numbers are lively.
Most of the cast of Rydell High students are in the right age group. (Meredith Garofalo as Rizzo is an exception, but then Stockard Channing was in her 30s when she played the role in the film version.) That’s good and bad, as they have lots of energy and innate plausibility, but the singing talents vary (not helped by recurring sound issues which can make it hard to distinguish lyrics) and the tendency is to overdo everything, both physically and emotionally.
Tara Collandra as the officious Patty Simcox and Nicholas Kim as the nerdy Eugene provide good contrast to those tough-talking Pink Ladies and Burger Palace Boys, and Nick Drivas does a nice job as Teen Angel on Beauty School Dropout. Emma Slotabec and Bryce Frase look appropriate for Sandy and Danny; they’re especially well paired after her transformation at the end of the show into a black-leather-wearing hottie.
There were some glitches on opening night, particularly with a bed that refused to slide out of a set of double doors at the right moment. And there was probably some general nervousness in the air among the young cast members. Those issues may be alleviated during the show’s run, which continues through Sept. 29.
For tickets, call 748-5875 or go to manateeplayers.com.