I approached Thursday's preview performance of Quad City Music Guild's Grease with preconceived opinions, not the least of which was that Grease is one of the few stage musicals that greatly improved in its transition to film. Not one of the half-dozen or so stage productions of this 1950's-themed high school musical I'd seen convinced me that the show was much good in its theatrical form; at best, I hoped for some notable performances in a musical I still wouldn't like. I didn't expect that great performances from the entire cast would have me re-thinking my entire opinion of Grease. They did.
Directed by Harold Truitt, much of the thrill of Music Guild's production lies in its pacing, especially in the first act. The show reached intermission before I expected it, leaving me a bit disappointed that I had to wait to continue on this fantastic theatrical ride. The second act hits a few minor pacing bumps, with lengthier scene changes and dialogue passages accompanying the plot holes and less linear storyline developments - some of the reasons I've long disliked the show. Yet while it was less well-paced in spots, Act II had no less energy than Act I, and carried this romping good time through to the end.
Music Guild's Grease is just so much fun, with a cast that seems to be having a good time making it so. As Danny, Andy Gibb Clark manages to balance a wide-eyed, uninhibited wonder during his scenes with Taylor Wiebers' Sandy, offering an aloof, condescending cockiness when his character is mugging for his buddies. While he had some pitch problems at times, Clark showcased great vocal tone, particularly on his "Alone at a Drive-In-Movie" solo. And Wiebers doesn't miss a wholesome or pure note as Sandy. Still in high school herself, Wiebers' singing ability, in my opinion, rivals some of the more seasoned singers who've graced the Prospect Park stage.
The production's Pink Ladies, meanwhile, are deliciously delightful. Angie Mitchum is stunningly too-cool-for-school as Rizzo. and while her "There Are Worse Things I Could Do" starts off nicely enough, it soars when the actress lets loose and belts her way through the song's deeper emotions. (The only thing that distracted me in Mitchum's performance was her tendency to drop her character's aloof personality when singing in ensemble numbers.) Amber Vick's Frenchy is adorable in her naiveté, while Alexa Harris is notable for her consistent faux sophistication as Marty. It's Lisa Groves, however, who is easily the crowd favorite with her unassuming, happy-go-lucky Jan. She's funny in a truly charming way.
As for the Burger Palace Boys (known at the T-Birds in the film version), they're an appropriately odd but pleasing mix of tough and dorky. Eugene Pavinato's Kenickie almost out-cools Clark's Danny, really rocking vocally on "Greased Lightnin'." Ben Holmes, as Doody, arguably has the best comic delivery of the cast, eliciting large laughs during Thursday's preview. Dale Shake, as the prankster Roger, holds his humorous own opposite Groves, and Jordan Lipes - recently impressive in the Richmond Hill Barn Theatre's Marvin's Room - once again shows off his noteworthy acting skills as Sonny. The role, like Grease's others, may not require much nuance, but Lipes attacks it with abandon, as if he's not afraid to play it too big and look the fool. In so doing, he doesn't look the fool at all, and shines with the most personality of anyone on stage.
Susie Adams' choreography is arguably too simple at times, but includes just enough nods to the film's choreography to be pleasingly familiar, while mixing in her own variations to amp up the fun factor. Michelle Heaton's costumes are striking, especially the 70's-styled dresses in the opening scene, Rizzo's provocative apparel, and the dresses worn to the high school hop. (One minor exception: rather than looking like a 1959 sexpot, Sandy's post-makeover ensemble makes her look like she's ready to star in an 80's music video.)
Thanks to Truitt's production, I have seen the light, and understand why Grease - in its stage form - has been so popular over the years. Music Guild's Grease isn't just the word, it's also a revved-up, high-octane, tuned-up good time.
For tickets and information, call (309)762-6610 or visit QCMusicGuild.com.
Thom White covers entertainment news for WQAD Quad Cities News 8.