The calendar may read 2011, but for everyone inside the packed Morrison Center on Jan. 14, it was 1959.
Grease transformed the modern Boise stage into the famous Rydell High School, and gave audience members the biker-jacket/poodle-skirt fix they craved. The weekends' performances celebrated the 40th anniversary of the beloved tale of adolescent angst, and Grease is the second in the lineup of six plays that make up this season's Fred Meyer Broadway in Boise series.
Before the show began, a man in tuxedo pants and vest stood solo on a completely desolate stage and attempted to get the crowd into a 1950s mindset. He directed his attention to the number of white-haired, obviously long-time Grease enthusiasts with phrases like "Remember the hand-jive?" and entertained the substantial number of youngsters in the audience by teaching them the dance and rallying audience participation. The charismatic jokester was none other than Eddie Mekka, whose resume reads like a novel. He's been a part of everything from the old classic shows now relegated to Nick at Nite--namely, Laverne & Shirley--to the pop-culture phenomenon It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia, as well as one-man off-Broadway shows, nightclub acts and big-time productions like Hairspray in Las Vegas.
After Mekka reminded attendees not to take photos, saying, "We just don't want to end up on Facebook," the stage went black. Spotlights brought a group of pink-jacket-clad ladies and men in black leather into view, and it was clear that this production of Grease was going to hold true to all of the images that the musical's name conjures up.
Frenchie had a perhaps too-squeaky voice and pink hair; Rizzo was the abrasive, cynical counterpart to sweet Sandy Olsson, and the T-birds were a group of chuckling numbskulls. Danny Zuko discovered his true identity, Sandy found out how powerful a little sex appeal can be and Rizzo had a pregnancy scare. The songs were all there: "Greased Lightning," "We Go Together" and, of course, "You're the One That I Want."
The cast did an excellent job staying true to the parts of Grease that make it an everlasting favorite. However, for those raised on the Olivia Newton John/John Travolta movie version, there are some noticeable differences in the traditional stage version. Act II, Scene 5 takes place in Jan's rec room, the drag race scene from the film is M.I.A, and Sandy's badass makeover is revealed at the Burger Palace instead of the school carnival. There are even a few songs not found in the film, including "Freddy My Love," sung by a Marilyn Monroe-esque version of Marty Maraschino; and "It's Raining on Prom Night" by Jan and Sandy.
One of the most memorable scenes occurs the day of the big dance. A kaleidoscope of ruffled skirts twirled amid a sea of hand-jiving and high kicks in front of a simple backdrop of basketball hoops and bleachers, and then the pint-sized Sandy (recent Wagner College grad Alyssa Herrera) declared her "hopeless devotion" to Danny, hitting some tricky high notes in the process. Lauren Elaine Taylor (Rizzo) also showed off her skills as a sultry songstress in "There are Worse Things I Could Do," a number during which she essentially causes Sandy to reinvent her image. Mekka proved that he can barrel roll and high kick like a Rockette in his role as Vince Fontaine/Teen Angel, and was especially fun to watch in the "Beauty School Dropout" number, surrounded by dancers donning glimmering hair dryers.
Also noticeable was remarkable skill with which set changes were orchestrated. During "Greased Lighting," The T-Birds transform Kenickie's rusted-out convertible into a fire-red babe magnet right in front of the audience. Marty's pink bedroom in Act I, Scene 4 takes the place of the locker room with optical allusion skills generally reserved for Las Vegas magicians. The lack of lag time for set changes kept the show moving at a rapid pace, and the final curtain dropped after about two and a half hours.
It's easy to understand why Grease has been able to endure the test of time. Even in its more commercialized/less-gritty movie form, it deals with adult themes in a fun manner. No matter when you went to high school, you're going to be able to relate to crushes/parties/dances.
But perhaps the biggest reason is that people are fanatical about it--you just had to witness the attire of the audience. Among the people clad dressed "normally," pre-teens in pink jackets littered the lobby at intermission, and elderly ladies rocking the scarf-tied ponytails of the 1950s mouthed the words to the famous songs with the actors. A man in a black leather biker jacket received a slew of comments on his way to his seat, and it was clear that, as audience member Abbie Haynes put it, "This is like a Harry Potter premiere, but for adults."
The Broadway in Boise series continues with Legally Blonde: The Musical, Feb. 7-9; Fiddler on the Roof, March 7-9, the much-anticipated Wicked, May 4-15 and Mamma Mia! June 14-16.