I have a confession to make! After watching Taylor Hicks perform “Beauty School Dropout” on Regis and Kelly and a couple of other ill gotten videos, I fully expected that Grease would be some silly, cheesy and less than stellar Broadway production that would rival only the best theatrical productions, off Broadway of course. Now don’t get me wrong here, I was fully expecting Taylor Hicks’ performance to be the show’s saving grace by being the best and possibly the only performance worth seeing. After all, I was quite familiar with the John Travolta-Olivia Newton-John version and couldn’t imagine any type of improvement that could be made. There would be no comparison except for Taylor Hicks’ appearance.
Like most Soul Patrollers who have made the trek to Broadway, I had to have my picture taken in front of the Brooks Atkinson Theatre with Taylor Hicks. I mean the picture of Taylor that adorns the front of the theatre by the doors. We also had to scope out where the famous ‘stage door’ was so that when the show was over, we could quickly get out and find a place to park ourselves while we waited for Taylor Hicks and cast to exit and head home. Doors found and we still had time for dinner.
We finished dinner at 7:30, made a quick trip to the ladies’ room and off down the block to the theatre. It was time for the doors to open and the patrons to take their seats. As we approached the theatre we could see the thick line still making its way inside the theatre. We walked in, had our tickets scanned and were told to take a right at the second door, first aisle. Picking up a copy of the Playbill, we walked down the aisle to our seats, row E, two seats just left of the aisle, with just minutes to spare before the play started – the chimes had already played as we were walking down the aisle!
The theatre announcer made his announcement that there was to be no photography, videoing or audio recording of the performance. I’d already secured my camera in my purse – I knew the rules and would gladly adhere to them. I already had plenty of professional pictures from opening night so anything I would take wouldn’t hold a candle so I wanted to just sit back and enjoy the play.
As I sat down I looked at the curtain and thought to myself that I was going to be about four rows too close! But when the play actually started, I knew we had the perfect seats! The band, high above the stage and visible from the front rows (if you looked up into the curtains) cued up and the front curtain painted with the steps of Rydell High School rose up to the rafters. I was about to learn that my original assessment would be wrong, and that I would be fascinated by the production's style and quality.
The opening number had Sandy (Laura Osnes) and Danny (Max Crumm) saying good-bye after a summer romance, neither realizing they would soon meet again when school started in just a few days. Standing behind a full moon the young lovers stole their last kiss of the summer and the Grease Company opened the show with “Grease”, the play’s title song! I was now proved wrong in my original thoughts about this being some silly, cheesy production! This cast was really quite good!
The next scene, always one of my favorites from the movie, has Sandy and Danny talking to their friends, telling them about their summer fling, not realizing they were now attending the same school and were just feet away from each other. We are introduced to the main characters of the play, and quickly my favorites emerge as Rizzo (Jenny Powers), the “tough one” and Frenchy (Kirsten Wyatt), the “ditzy one”. I loved Frenchy’s style with a high-pitched voice and wacky personality that did justice to the curly red hair. The guys, greased back hair, leather jackets and smoking cigarettes, want us to know they are tough. Danny may be the head player but others would quickly emerge to steal my heart! (WARNING – real cigarettes are used and if you have an allergy to them, be advised to sit further back; even where I was sitting the smoke got to me.)
As Sandy and Danny sang “Summer Nights”, any lingering memory of John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John having sung the same song left. From that point on, there would be no more comparisons. This was a cast of professionals in every sense of the word, and I would be mesmerized the rest of the evening with a stupid grin of enjoyment firmly planted on my face. And I’m happy to say that I was delighted to be proved wrong about my original thoughts about this play. I was a happy camper, or student, back at Rydell High, joining in the memory of first love, hair grease and poodle skirts.
In Marty’s bedroom, the girls have gathered for a slumber party and quickly realize that Sandy is very inexperienced and probably a lot naïve! Marty (Robyn Hurder), a blonde Marilyn Monroe wannabe, was the most experienced of them all, or at least wanted them to think that way, knew just how to get the current beau to do her bidding with “Freddy, My Love”. Sandy with her clean wholesome looks was way out of her league with these rough and tough Pink Ladies.
I quickly fell in love with Kenickie (Matthew Saldivar)! Just watching Kenickie made me think of another talented Birmingham, Alabama, musician, Clay Connor! Kenickie talked about his dream ride, “Greased Lightnin’”, and later in the play we would be introduced to his beat up clunker and watch as it was transformed into the perfect ride! A car that barely made it the center of the stage would leave the stage as a thing of beauty with big fenders and red flames running down the sides.
Before the end of the first act, Rizzo would stand out with her making fun of Sandy in “Look at Me, I’m Sandra Dee”. By this time she was quickly becoming one of my favorites. Something about that tough girl act that gave the impression a sensitive soul was underneath it all – perhaps she secretly wished she was more like Sandy than she wanted anyone to know.
After a brief intermission, Act II began with a dance in the school gym. The female cast had one some of the prettiest prom dresses a girl could ask for! Rizzo in black with gold accents and Marty in a soft green dress with only a single wide strap could have been the belles of the ball! In my day, I would have been the envy of the girls in a dress like they wore.
I kept watching for the ice cream come to drop from the ceiling as Frenchy was outside the Burger Palace trying to figure out how to tell her friends she wasn’t able to handle beauty school. As she wished for a guardian angel to come tell her what to do, that ice cream cone slid from the right side of the stage to stop in the center. When the cone doors were opened and her Teen Angel appeared the audience broke into an appreciative applause as Taylor Hicks began to sing “Beauty School Dropout”.
Dressing in a black sequined suit with an open shirt and shiny black shoes, his grey hair sprayed into a pompadour, Taylor Hicks charmed his intended and the smiles on Frenchy’s face let us know she was very taken by her Teen Angel. Their interaction was what I already expected based on the Regis and Kelly performance, and I was not to be disappointed. As Teen Angel told Frenchy to return to High School and get her degree, he leaned her back across the picnic table and got in her face as he sang. When the song was over and he was walking away, Taylor strode near the front of the stage doing an Elvis impression of “Thank you, thank you very much” and then turned back toward the cast and appeared to stick out his tongue! I couldn’t help but chuckle!
Back in the ice cream cone, as he was being elevated back to the top, Taylor held up his arms, hands with palms up, his head tilted up toward the sky, and a silly grin planted on his face – an expression that shouted “what do you mean I’m guilty, I’m innocent I tell you”! Then Taylor fished in his pocket for his signature harmonica and gave us a harmonic version of the song before finishing the song and being floated off stage back to the Malt Shop in the Sky!
As the play closes, Sandy decides she needs a transformation and calls Frenchy to help with the make-over. At the Burger Shop the new Sandy makes her debut with style - Sandy has shed the Sandra Dee persona and is ready to take on the baddest of the bad girls, Rizzo included. With dance moves and leg raises that would cause your back to hurt for a week, she and Danny danced their way to finale as their friends joined in.
As the curtain call began, cheers and applause was given for audience favorites, although it was hard to tell who some favorites were – the cheers and applause was about the same for each of the characters. When Taylor Hicks made his curtain bow the level went up to a near-frenzy and back down until Danny and Sandy took their bows, when the level went back up again.
When the final curtain was rolled back down and the lights came on, we made our way outside to the stage door. The crowd was already building and we found an opening toward the front to stand and wait. But the heat of the lights got to me and I move back behind the crowd to watch and maybe catch a couple of pictures of Taylor as he walked out to greet those waiting.
After about 15 minutes, Danny came out amid the cheers of the crowd. Within just a few minutes, the crowd erupted again and Taylor Hicks came to the left side of the stage door first. A couple of taller ladies allowed me in front of them so that I could snap a couple of pictures as Taylor passed by. Dang it, my lens was in full zoom and Taylor’s face took up the entire frame, and I was about 10 to 15 feet back! Oh well, I tried again and someone blocked my view. I did manage to capture a few pictures, but my real enjoyment had been watching a great play with terrific music that surpassed my wildest expectations. Not to mention a Taylor Hicks performance that put the cherry on the sundae!
While returning to the hotel, we chatted about our thoughts on the play, compared notes on our favorites and considered the possibilities of catching another performance. By the time I was back at the hotel, I knew I had to return and had already planning my next trip to the Big Apple to see Grease again! Now to get those reservations made!
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