Spring Musical Review: Grease Still Jives With Crowds

It’s been a month since Grease, The Musical was performed at Austin Arts Center and 45 years since the show was first performed in 1971. It was an edgier musical in its early years, tackling groundbreaking topics like abortion, teenage sex and early rock and roll in a time that didn’t always like to talk openly about those things. But a wider audience beckoned, and Grease was more of a family affair even by the time of the 1978 movie version. But even after every change, it remained a tongue-in-cheek love letter to the rebel characters of the fifties and the world they lived in.
Grease has been a constant in American theater since that time, popular in high schools and colleges as well as in the performances of countless theater companies around the world. Trinity’s production seemed to be aiming at something close in texture to the original production.
There we were again, watching as respectful young outsider Sandy (Maggie Powderly ’18) realized on the first day of class that her summer boyfriend Danny (James Nash ’19 ) is somehow attending the same school, against all odds. The first act of the show, and indeed, all of the show, relies heavily on the odds of good chemistry between the leads, and Powderly and Nash had moments of great success. Both are impressive singers and seemed up to the task afforded to them by their roles.
Grease overcame its first hurdle in the casting of Its leads, but some of the most arresting performances of the show came from the supporting characters. Lydia Haynes ‘18 gave a necessary edge to her performance as Rizzo and won the night with her trained voice while Chris Perkowski ’18 made a very convincing crooner in his performance of “Beauty School Dropout.”
But nothing lasts forever, and there were stretches, some of them long, scattered here and there throughout the performance that harmed the artistic momentum of the show. The effort of nearly every cast member came across in their performances, though, and the results were generally good on this front.
With a comparatively large cast exceeding twenty people, the challenge of writing choreography that still preserves the coolness that is supposed to emanate from most these characters must have been very imposing. A nerdy character at this version of Rydell High is expected only to do the twist in the corner, but people like Danny Zuko and his friends must always be ahead of the game in their dancing.
The 1978 movie version relied a lot on railings, staircases and other pieces of furniture to facilitate dancing. The Trinity production had no choice in that matter, though, thanks to a minimalist set. That may be why the practical choreography that this production used could sometimes come across as a bit slow. There were moments of real innovation, though, as the seasoned dancers used the choreography to their advantage.
Grease is a musical from a different time, and without a bit of a historical context, it can seem out of place. The story is a hindsight driven 1970s parable that sometimes struggles to find a foothold in our modernity. From the beginning, few would have predicted that the love story of Danny and Sandy would have been as viral and as enduring as it has proven itself. What keeps it so culturally upstream is a bold energy that is tough to get right, but which calls up enormous sentimentality when it is found. It takes a lot of influences from nearly every part of the production, though.
Even Vivian Lamb’s costume design, which had all the marks of careful consideration , needed to be precisely balanced and classic, and in line with the style and time period. The cast of this latest Spring Musical achieved that last month: they found that specific energy that means Grease and felt it influence their performances. Despite a final structure that is cracked and worn in some places, the foundation of Grease was strong.
For some, their only encounter with this production of Grease will be in reading their copy of the 2016 Trinity Ivy, and seeing photographs of the performance. But for those who saw Grease performed, most will remember it fondly.

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