Whatever else you can say about Grease, you have to admit it has an identity problem.
In 1971, Chicagoans Jim Jacobs and Warren Casey wrote music, lyrics and book for a down-and-dirty satire about high school in the late ’50s. The show ended up in New York, and between its off-Broadway and Broadway runs became one of musical theater’s longest-running hits.
In 1978, it was made into a movie (do Olivia Newton-John and John Travolta spring to mind?) that broke box-office records. But while the theatrical incarnation mocked the period, the movie celebrated it.
Since then, Broadway revivals (and a recent live TV broadcast) have attempted, to various degrees, to recreate the movie. But ultimately, most productions of Grease seem caught between biting satire and loving recollection.
That’s very clear in the new Pittsburgh Musical Theater production: You never know whether the show is ridiculing or rejoicing, and to call the results disjointed is putting it mildly. It’s an exercise in artistic whiplash.
But exactly none of that matters at PMT. Director Trey Compton, choreographer Lisa Elliott and musical director Brent Alexander have no interest in making sense of the dramaturgical jumble. All they want to do is entertain — and they’ve succeeded immeasurably.
Jeff Perri’s cartoony, colorful set is the perfect backdrop for the big, fun performances happening in front of it. With a huge assist from Kim Brown’s costumes and Christopher Patrick’s hair designs, this highly enthusiastic cast couldn’t be more entertaining.
Ricky Gee and Lara Hayhurst use their exceptionally strong voices to bring the roles of Danny and Sandy to singin’ life. Audra Qualley and Quinn Patrick Shannon are thoroughly adorable as Jan and Roger, and their duet “Mooning” is a charming hoot. Larissa Overholt and Kevin Daniel O’Leary add needed grit as Rizzo and Kenickie, with Erin Lindsey Krom, Hannah Fairman, Katie Marie Jones and Nathan Sudie scoring in supporting roles.
While Compton’s staging of the group scenes is a bit muddled, he’s charged the production with pace and energy. It’s not his fault the script’s a mess, but it’s to his credit it’s so watchable.