By Larry Laneer
June 16, 2021
Can you believe Grease turns 50 this year? Any production today will likely have cast members whose parents are younger than the show. That could be the case with the version Lyric Theatre is putting on now.
Lyric has done a fine job in 2021 bringing us (mostly) live performances in outdoor venues. Theatergoers greatly appreciate the company doing its best to tide us over until theater comes back onstage and in person this fall.
With book, music, and lyrics by Jim Jacobs and Warren Casey, Grease is about high school students in 1959. So, it sort of makes sense for Lyric to do the show at the Bishop McGuinness High School football stadium. The audience sits in the stands (on cushioned seatbacks provided by a Lyric sponsor), and the action takes place on the field.
Michael Baron directs, and he must know now what it’s like to be a marching band director. He marshals a cast of 30 and a “teen chorus” of 32 over an area between the 20-yard lines. This is a huge number of people on a large field. Baron generally fills the space effectively and keeps the action moving. Much of the show takes place on several large, wheeled platforms. The platforms let Baron stage a lot of unnecessary scene changes. Less time spent moving scenery and props would make a tighter production. The show runs just under two hours with no intermission but with a seventh-inning stretch, if you can excuse a baseball reference on the gridiron.
Baron does a remarkable job of slipping in many subtle details. My favorite is seeing the “audience” at a drive-in movie theater watching a 3-D picture through their special, cardboard-framed glasses.
Kimberly Powers did the scenic design, which includes several large pieces making the scenery proportional to the outdoor setting. I never cease to be amazed at how far lighting technology has come. Lighting designer Fabian J. Garcia creates big effects with what looks to the untrained eye like relatively few lighting instruments. Jeffrey Meek’s costumes go for period authenticity rather than parody, which fits the setting just right. The at times exuberant choreography is by Vincent Sandoval.
Lyric again has used canned accompaniment for this production. Under today’s circumstances, theatergoers can forgive them once more for doing so, but that cat is running out of lives. At the reviewed performance, the recorded music seemed at first to overpower the singers resulting in drowned-out lyrics. But the show soon settled in, and the sound is fine.
Grease will appeal to nostalgia buffs who like mindless entertainment. It has just enough plot to get from song to song. The score sounds like it could have been written in 1959 but not as musical theater. The rock-and-roll and pop songs snap with period authenticity. The nonsense wordplay of “We Go Together” and the poignant “Hopelessly Devoted to You” pass the test of time.
The youthful ensemble cast does a fine job. The McGuinness football stadium is not the most desirable setting for musical theater. But Baron and music director Eric Grigg have taught the cast to do the show to its full force and effect under the circumstances. Best example: late in the show, Sydney Jones, as Sandy, sings the slow “Look at Me, I’m Sandra Dee,” across the multilane running track that circles the football field and a four-foot chain-link fence, with the same power and presence she would achieve downstage at the Plaza Theatre.
That song as sung by Jones summarizes what Lyric has done this year. Through sheer force of will and professionalism, they have done what needs to be done to bring us theater at a high standard. I hope everyone associated with the company knows how thankful theatergoers are for their efforts.
Grease by Jim Jacobs and Warren Casey (book, music, lyrics)