Taylor Hicks’ seven minutes in Grease are phenomenal
If I have a guilty pleasure, it’s musical theater —probably because I always forget that I actually enjoy it in a live setting. When I’m not around it, I tend to make snarky jokes about the anachronistic clichés that permeate the classics of high school show choir: the standard boy-meets-girl plotlines; the pairing of the two overweight cast members because, well, they have that in common, so it must be love; etc. And yet, when seated in front of a good, ol’ fashioned song-and-dance number, this cynic’s heart melts like so much soft serve at the Burger Palace.
And so there I was at the opening of the Broadway revival of Grease (in town at the Marcus Center for the Performing Arts now until Sunday, Feb. 28) even though I kept telling myself I would rather have been at WWE Smackdown over at the Bradley Center. Which is odd, because wrestling and musical theater are not dissimilar: both feature a hyperactive cast camping it up with occasional choreography. The only difference is that in musical theater, the gay audience members are actually aware of, and cool with, the fact that they’re gay. Point for musical theater.
Anyway, it wasn’t difficult to get wrapped up in the giddy fun of this classic high school comedy. Dominic Fortuna’s Travolta-esque Vince Fontaine got the room warmed up with some familiar ’50s sock-hop jams and some excellent improvised jokes about Cudahy, leading into an energetically electric rendition of the opening number, “Grease,” that set the tone for what was to come.
I’m guessing most people reading this have seen the 1978 film; if you have, you know what to expect from the show, as this revival incorporates the songs that were written specifically for the film, including the No. 1 smash, “You’re the One That I Want.” My not-so-dark confession: I have never seen the movie, but the music’s ubiquitous-ness in our culture is such that every number felt as cozily familiar as the wedding dance where I learned them. Each was brilliantly performed by a cast with serious pipes, including gifted leads Lauren Ashley Zakrin (“Sandy”) and Josh Franklin (“Danny”), as well as recent addition Laura D’Andre as the girl way too many of my ex-girlfriends wanted to be, the racy Rizzo.
Blah blah blah … WHATABOUTTAYLORHICKS?!? Yes, if you have watched any local television in the last few weeks, you know that the American Idol Season 5 winner, the silver fox of the “Soul Patrol,” Taylor Hicks, was cast in the traditional “Oh, hey, it’s that guy” musical cameo role of Teen Angel. Thank God a friend more familiar with the show’s history clued me in on the fact that the role is traditionally reserved for a ridiculous piece of stunt casting; otherwise, I would have sat through the entire first half asking “Ok, where the hell is he?,” followed up with an indignant “Wait, that’s it?” It’s true — Hicks is in the play for about seven minutes. But … he’s … really awesome in it. I admit I was expecting a “Hey, weren’t you supposed to sell a lot of records?” trainwreck, but the man was hilariously phenomenal, even making some playful jabs at his quasi-celebrity status. FAIR PLAY, HICKS. (By the way, it deserves mentioning that this production is drowning in reality TV; the musical was revived during NBC’s reality competition Grease: You’re the One That I Want, and Zakrin was a finalist on MTV’s Legally Blonde the Musical: the Search for Elle Woods. If I find out Dominic Fortuna was a finalist on Last Comic Standing, I swear I will say something very snarky about it.)
Grease runs through Sunday, Feb. 28, at the Marcus Center for the Performing Arts Center. For ticketing details and more information call the Marcus Center Box Office at 414-273-7206 or visit the Marcus Center website.