Grease 2 Hits The Stage
BY JACK HUMPHREY On October 1, 1998, Grease 2 was performed on stage for what may have been the first time. Who would have the nerve to mount such a production? None other than the Yale Cabaret, a small basement theater/restaurant run entirely by Yale School of Drama students. The Cabaret produces a different show every weekend, with two performances a night for three nights. Cabaret alumni include Meryl Streep, Sigourney Weaver, Frances McDormand, Angela Bassett, John Turturro, and David Duchovny.
Grease 2 is not necessarily a typical show for the Cabaret. Lora Dole, the show's director, says that the Cabaret has been known for performing more serious works. Nonetheless, Grease 2, a not-so-serious musical, has met with popular approval. The Cabaret was packed for both performances on Thursday night, with the early performances for the remaining nights sold out in advance. And with good reason: this show surpasses all expectations one could have for a Grease 2 stage adaptation.
Ms. Dole and Annie Dorsen, the artistic director, collaborated on the adaptation and did an admirable job of translating the physical language of the film to the stage. Faced with a shoestring budget and a movie filled with motorcycles, Ms. Dole came up with a startlingly effective device. Whenever a cycle scene was unavoidable, as in "Who's That Guy" and the pre-talent show chase scene, metal bars with flashlights attached served as motorcycles. Sounds ridiculous? Maybe, but in the darkened theater, it worked beautifully.
Some scenes and songs were removed in order to shorten the musical to an hour. Several musical numbers were cut -- "Charades," a character-building song for Michael; "Prowlin'," a very funny showcase for Nogerelli; "(Love Will) Turn Back the Hands of Time," a great melancholy number; "We'll Be Together;" and "Rock A Hula Luau", a catchy, sing-along number. Overall, these were appropriate choices given the necessity of a shorter play. Although all of these songs have a certain appeal, they are ultimately not necessary to the flow of the musical. The absence of "We'll Be Together" was perhaps the most noticeable; though not a great song, it brings a certain closure to the movie. (And wouldn't have been great to see the cast wrap themselves in Christmas tree lights? Probably a fire code violation...) To end the play, the cast instead reprises "Cool Rider."
The songs that remained were very well done. Alec Wild, as Mr. Stuart, gave a hilarious, show-stealing performance in "Reproduction." "Cool Rider" was very true to the movie, even to the point of providing a ladder for Stephanie Zinoni (played by Alexa Fischer) to climb during the climax of the number. Costume designer Marla Humphress did a wonderful job outfitting the Pink Ladies for "A Girl For All Seasons." The Shamans, a local group, did an excellent job of providing musical accompaniment. The addition of a horn section would have made it even better.
Most of the major characters from the movie were kept for the stage adaptation, with the exception of Rhonda, Miss Mason, Blanche, and Coach Calhoun. The character of Rhonda was rolled into Frenchy, which worked very well. The absence of the other characters did not adversely affect the play. The entire cast did admirable work, and Jon Ecklund (Michael), Alexa Fischer (Stephanie), Chris Coffey (Johnny), and Joanna Glushak (Paulette) were excellent in the lead roles. Ms. Fischer captured Stephanie's intensity and insouciance, and Ms. Glushak, in a hilarious blonde wig, delivered a strong performance with a little extra raunch thrown in for good measure. Eric Brown poured himself into the character of Jaworski, exhibiting a finely honed chicken strut that allowed him to shine although he had few lines to deliver. B. Todi was excellent as Principal McGee. The best performance of all came from Heather Robinson, who simply took Frenchy to the next level, with perfect comic timing and impeccable delivery.
The Yale Cabaret's adaptation of Grease 2 was a joy to behold; the only disappointment is that it had to end so soon. Director Lora Dole teased this reviewer with the possibility of mounting the show in New York next summer -- dare we dream?