|New York TimesBy ALVIN KLEIN Published: June 15, 1986, Sunday
WITH ”Grease,” the Downtown Cabaret Theater in Bridgeport is serving a double dose of nostalgia.
The mindlessness of teen-age life styles, song styles and hair styles of the 1950’s is affectionately recreated, as prescribed. And there is more.
In 1972, when ”Grease” opened off Broadway, it was billed as ”a new 1950’s rock-and-roll musical.” In 1986, the show makes us long for a time -be it the 50’s or the 70’s – when musicals were musicals, with original scores and stories. For, in the current theater, musicals are an endangered form, ever diminishing in quantity and in quality. Staged and choreographed by Richard Casper, ”Grease” in Bridgeport is rather restrained, focusing on the feelings of oddly appealing characters, rather than their frenetic carryings on. The book is played for real and taken quite seriously. That serves more of a sociological than a theatrical purpose, but it works.
In the end, all the show’s elements ”go together,” to borrow the title of the score’s theme song, coherently and sweetly. No small accomplishment for Mr. Casper, since those elements – a piece of plot here, a song stuck in there – have been diffuse in far more polished productions.
The Pink Ladies – the girls’ gang – and their guys, are, to use their operative adjective, neat. Most notably, David Yudell as Danny Zuko and Amy Stoddart as Sandy Dumbrowsky are an engaging couple who change their ways in spite of themselves -and for each other.
Mr. Yudell can hit funny falsetto notes and he is just as funny as a ladies’ man in leather who is going all American, trying out for the track team and smoking while running. Miss Stoddart’s ”Sandy D” is good at pouting, sparring with her boyfriend and walking out on him in a drive-in movie. Finally, her transformation from virginal to vamp-type – in leather pants, of course – is wildly successful.
As Patty Symcox – the one with the flat, drawn out delivery and the cute, knife-in-the-back manner – Joy Grabow Bannow twirls a cheerleader’s baton with a vengeance, and drags out every word to its last coy syllable.
Robert Lloyd is a terrific ”Teen Angel” in the ”Beauty School Dropout” number, which is convincingly sung by Karen Levinson as Frenchy – the one with the hair teased up to there. Tanya Moberly is a tough and, finally, a touching Betty Rizzo. Her rendition of ”There Are Worse Things I Could Do” is defiantly on target. Add Susan Hackett, a sultry Marty, and Ruth Lauricella, a spooky Cha-Cha DiGregorio, and you have a fair sampling of an abundantly gifted lot. With the second act’s ”Born to Hand Jive” contest in Rydell High School’s gym, Mr. Casper’s choreography comes alive. Before that, the dances seem overly cautious. J. Robin Modereger’s set designs are minimal, but effective. In every ”Grease,” one must see the obligatory likeness of a brooding James Dean. Here, it serves as an ever-present backdrop. Removable tinsel streamers and other accouterments – one ought to call them ”decorations” in the context of the book by Jim Jacobs and Warren Casey, – are authentic, budget-conscious touches. The lyrics by Mr. Jacobs and Mr. Casey hold up nicely. Hear how effortlessly and amusingly ”Freddy,” ”go steady” and ”confetti” rhyme. The team’s tunes remain catchy replicas of the period.
Some 14 years ago, ”Grease” seemed like a pleasant, small-scaledshow. It went on to Broadway and a record-breaking run. Indeed, theater annals now have it as the third longest-running musical in Broadway history. And, as musicals get scarcer, ”Grease,” gets better.
At this rate, it may be heralded, 10 years hence, as a masterpiece. The Downtown Cabaret Theater is keeping history going, for ”Grease” suggests that yesterday’s diversion has a neat chance of becoming tomorrow’s classic. ”Grease” at the Downtown Cabaret Theater in Bridgeport. 263 Golden Hill Street. 576-1636. Through July 26.