by David A. Rosenberg
Focusing on the misfits at Rydell High – guys and gals acting tough and not studying – “Grease” is a teeny-tiny tale drenched in 50s nostalgia. Back we go when a woman’s period was known as her “friend,” when casual racism was just that -- casual -- and nerds and gays were interchangeable. But for a few feel-ups and four-letter words, these are innocents. (“Come over to my house to watch the Mickey Mouse Club,” says one gang member.)
It’s the era of James Dean and Sandra Dee, of cheap wine and souped-up cars, of mooning and poodle skirts. It’s also the kind of rambling show where a lead-in for one number is “Why don’t you guys sing another song?”
Although it’s all satirical, a goof, at least pretending to take it seriously is essential. At Summer Theater of New Canaan, director Melody Meitrott Libonati lets her cast ooze into caricature. They’re self-aware, as if saying to themselves and us, the audience, “Aren’t we funny?”
Standing out are Benjamin Edward Simpson’s charming Doody (“Those Magic Changes”) and Cristina Farruggia’s wrenching Rizzo (“There Are Worse Things I Can Do”). Doug Shankman’s choreography is exuberant and the small band under David Hancock Turner captures the style and tenor of Jim Jacobs and Warren Casey’s terrific pastiche rock score (“Freddy, My Love,” ”Greased Lightnin,’” “We Go Together”).
Let’s not pretend “Grease” is a great musical, although it was a great Broadway hit, lasting 3,388 performances. Like that battery bunny it’s been going on and on ever since. We must marvel.