Theatre review: Grease has infectious energy despite its pacing

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Grease by Jim Jacobs & Warren Casey is a musical look at the dangers of being a hyper horny teenager in the 1950’s.  Dating, fitting in, teenage pregnancy, gang fights and some old time rock and roll.

The Footlight Theatre Company production currently on stage at the Michael J Fox Theatre in Burnaby opens with a stunning a cappella slowed down version of “We Go Together”, setting a tight and energetic musical direction from Monique Creber and Tom Arntzen for the evening.

For those who don’t know the story, Sandy is an exchange student attending Rydell High. The past summer she met a nice young man named Danny Zuko who she thought she would never see again. Surprise! He attends Rydell High, is part of a leather jacketed greaser gang and far too cool to hang with someone as straight laced as Sandy.  Danny tries to clean up his act for Sandy by joining the track team, some of the teenagers tease each other, there is a school dance, mean girl Rizzo gets a surprise and in the end Sandy is the one who opts to change for Danny.

Members of the cast in the Footlight Theatre Company production of Grease.
Members of the cast of the Footlight Theatre Company production of Grease.

This is not a high stakes plot, with few twists and turns.  Instead it is a series of events that connect some high-energy rock songs and a few power ballads.  You need a strong cast to keep the show compelling. Luckily this production features some the finest singers in town and some of them are pretty funny actors too.

Caleb Di Pomponio as Doody has a wide rock sound and he is charmingly funny! The always-electric Emily Canavan makes a memorable Marty and Emily Kapahi as nerdy cheerleader is very funny dragging herself along the floor while in the splits.

Jennie Neumann, one of three professional actors in the cast, has a wicked emotional belt when singing “There Are Worse Things I Could Do” as Rizzo and handsome leading man Lucas Blaney has good comic timing and a killer voice on the despairing “Sandy”.

Alex Gullason has the most difficult part as Sandy as the female ingénue is almost always the least interesting character, reactive and mostly sad; it is hard to make her interesting or engaging. Ms Gullason comes alive though when singing her songs with her crystal clear voice.

So is it worth the $32 to $48 ticket price? It depends on what you want to pay for.

The pacing is often slow and the actors are encouraged to be broad with little nuance; all the surface acting makes it hard to invest.  As well, the staging is sometimes clumsy and blackouts to accommodate set changes causes the energy to dip as the audience sits in dark waiting for furniture to move; the actors have to work really hard to pick things up after that many black outs.

But if what you want is a dynamic cast with great voices singing rock n’ roll songs – many that you can hum along to – there is more than enough here and the energy is infectious. Director Lalainia Lindberg Strelau’s decision to put the audience in the middle of the fun on occassion is an added bonus.

Michael J Fox Theatre
9 – 24 November 2012

By Jim Jacobs and Warren Casey.  Directed by Lalainia Lindberg Strelau.  A Footlight Theatre Company production.  On stage at Burnaby’s Michael J Fox Theatre through November 24, 2012.  Visit for tickets and information.

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