Grease's big song-and-dance numbers shine brightest

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Book, music, and lyrics by Jim Jacobs and Warren Casey. Directed by Peter Jorgensen. Musical direction by Courtenay Ennis. A Studio 58 production. At Studio 58 on Saturday, February 1. Continues until February 23

It may not be the one that you want—or expect—but it’s an entertaining production of a rough draft.

Most of us know Grease—the story of good girl Sandy and bad boy Danny, summer loves who are star-crossed when they meet up again at Rydell High School in the fall of 1959—from the 1978 movie featuring John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John. But the film was adapted from the Broadway production, itself a somewhat sanitized version of the original 1971 Chicago (and later off-Broadway) incarnation. It’s that last version we’re getting here. It’s more raw and vulgar, the character arcs are very thinly sketched, and some of the film’s best-known songs are nowhere to be found.

There’s still plenty to like in this Grease, though. Its most successful moments are the big song-and-dance numbers that pay loving homage to the youthful, rebellious spirit of rock ’n’ roll. Director Peter Jorgensen and musical director Courtenay Ennis work the talents of this big ensemble cast, but the evening’s greatest triumph is Kayla Dunbar’s choreography. In songs like “Summer Nights”, “Greased Lightning”, and especially “Born to Hand-Jive”, she fills the stage with playful, acrobatic movement. The exuberance is infectious.

Jessica Bayntun’s costumes also offer consistent visual pleasure: from the colourful prom dresses to the pink wigs and curlers of “Beauty School Dropout”, her work pops against Omanie Elias’s curiously bland set.

The scenes between musical numbers are sluggishly paced, however, while the songs that feature individual singers are a mixed success. The evening’s biggest surprise is “Mooning”, a gorgeous doo-wop ode to self-exposure that’s not in the film, delivered here in a powerhouse performance by Chirag Naik (as Roger), the cast’s strongest singer.

Lauren Jackson’s Sandy and Lili Beaudoin’s Frenchy have sweet personalities and voices to match. Markian Tarasiuk as Danny and Laena Brown as Rizzo both nail their respective characters’ tough and tender charms but are stretched outside their comfort zones as singers.

Some numbers like “All Choked Up”, which Sandy and Danny sing at the play’s climax, pale in comparison to the songs that replaced them in the movie version (in this case, the unforgettable “You’re the One That I Want”). The Original Grease makes you appreciate both what the show once was and what it ultimately became.

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