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AT THE FLOP

At the end of the opening-night performance of Grease, former Monkees heartthrob Mickey Dolenz hushes the applauding audience at the Temple Buell Theater and says, "If you like us, tell your friends. If you didn't like us, tell them you saw Cats." I saw Cats. The very best thing about...
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At the end of the opening-night performance of Grease, former Monkees heartthrob Mickey Dolenz hushes the applauding audience at the Temple Buell Theater and says, "If you like us, tell your friends. If you didn't like us, tell them you saw Cats."

I saw Cats.
The very best thing about this traveling Broadway megahit, now at the Temple Buell Theater in all its Day-Glo glory, is the actual Fifties pop music that plays before the curtain and during intermission--not the phony stuff written for the show. However simple or silly the lyrics, that early rock and roll had so much vitality that it keeps the feet tapping and the spirits flying, at least for a while.

But after nearly three hours of deafening nostalgia, Tommy Tune's production itself slides steadily down the drain. Whatever may have been good or exciting or even foolish about the Fifties has not been captured in this failed parody of the period. Parody requires some insight into the subject, and the single point this show makes is that rock music was and is about sex--a concept Little Richard managed to sum up in two minutes with "Tutti-Frutti."

Yes, this is only a musical, and one that clearly doesn't try to serve up any wisdom with its doo-wop ditties. But even musicals need a little more than pep to glue together the song-and-dance routines. Anything would have been a relief from the tedium of this boy-meets-girl, boy-loses-girl, girl-transforms-into-sex-object-for-boy plot.

The show's problems stem from Jim Jacobs and Warren Casey's script; despite their heavy investment in pubescent sexual energy, a kind of contempt for teenagers runs through the story. The characters are too vapid to be sympathetic, and under Jeff Calhoun's pedestrian direction, the actors aren't allowed to compensate for it.

The cast members are all talented and gorgeous (this is a Broadway show, after all). Sally Struthers, apparently on hiatus from recruiting TV viewers to truck-driving school, gives a surprisingly delightful rendition of the aggressive disciplinarian Miss Lynch. Struthers, forever catching naughty boys with their cigs, makes for the perfect high school matron. Dolenz, still defying age and gravity as a skirt-chasing disc jockey, does a fine job lubricating the scene changes with Top 40 radio patter. Rex Smith's Danny (the studly hero) smears plenty of charm over the production with his Fonz-like cool and boyish vulnerability. Angela Pupello stands out as Betty Rizzo, the toughest girl in town--and the only woman in the show with any spunk at all.

As Rizzo's dumb buddy Frenchy, Beth Lipari squeaks engagingly and introduces the best tune of the evening: Kevin-Anthony's scene-stealing "Beauty School Dropout." He comes out in a plastic jelly-roll hairdo that stands as high as a halo, a white suit with wings and a golden voice to match his rock-angel persona.

But even with all this talent, Grease sputters. There's nothing more depressing than the spectacle of people trying too hard to be happy. Neither the high energy of professional performers nor the boss tunes of another era can make the good times roll when the story is this rocky.

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