Theater

Grease and ennui: My date last night

A few years ago, my daughter used to be all about Grease, 24/7. She watched it all the time and knew all the songs. So how was I to know that in the ensuing years, wherein she became a full-on middle-schooler and teen-in-training, everything had changed? Yet she still inexplicably said yes when I invited her to go to opening night of Grease last night at the Buell.

It all goes back to a time when, all through elementary school, she attended Denver Center Theatre Company theater camps every summer. "I was trying to be a theater person then, so I liked Grease," she explains. Now the kid is an orchestra major at the Denver School of the Arts and knows what's what. "Now," she avers, "I hate theater people." Either you're one of them or you're not; she chose not to go to the dark side.

I have to admit I've never been a fan of Grease. I always found it to be really dumb and the denouement mysteriously meaningless and poorly plotted. The songs are okay, but the movie, with its overaged cast, just stank of an alternative reality that sort of but didn't really fit the era it pretended to recall.

But to its credit, the touring production we saw last night was slightly more true to its time and professionally done, and it featured some swell costumes, perky performances, fine Fifties singing and fancy dancing on numbers like "Born to Hand Jive," not to mention a set that twinkled like stardust. While it didn't get me up and dancing, it also didn't put me to sleep.

At the intermission, my daughter posted the following status on Facebook: "What's the word? Grease!! No. The word was potatoes." By the end of the second half, she'd slumped so low in her seat that I'm not even sure she could see the stage. Though she's always had her complaints about the movie ( "John Travolta looks like a husky!"), none of that prepared me for her incisive sendup after it was over: "When those guys were sitting on the car, they looked all pudgy and old. They were too fat! They didn't even look like they could be in high school." So much for Rydell High. Some of the other audience members were more polite. I saw smiles and heard enthusiastic kudos for the show, and I'd agree that anyone who loves Grease in the first place would not be disappointed with this version, which includes a retro celebrity performance by Eddie Mekka (The Big Ragu on TV's Laverne & Shirley), who especially shines in his twin turns as DJ Vince Fontaine and Teen Angel. Grease continues at the Buell Theatre through Sunday. Just be careful about who you take with you.
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Susan Froyd started writing for Westword as the "Thrills" editor in 1992 and never quite left the fold. These days she still freelances for the paper in addition to walking her dogs, enjoying cheap ethnic food and reading voraciously. Sometimes she writes poetry.
Contact: Susan Froyd