Theater Review | Grease

VCU Theatre put their own spin on their production of "Grease," the 1971 musical made famous by John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John. The VCU production premiered on Friday, Oct. 4.

Nick Bonadies
Spectrum Editor

Cory Johnson
Staff Writer

VCU Theatre put their own spin on their production of "Grease," the 1971 musical made famous by John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John. The VCU production premiered on Friday, Oct. 4.

The lights come up on a soft grey-scale set. An archway of light illuminates a podium as a matronly Ms. Lynch welcomes the audience to Rydell High School. In the blink of an eye, teenagers in vividly fifties outfits rush the stage and the light show begins.

This weekend marked the opening of VCU’s Mainstage production of “Grease,” and it was a spectacle to say the least.

Though the set and lights were outstanding, most of the acting, microphone work and singing lacked chutzpah: If you plan on going to see “Grease,” be prepared for lots of cheese. As a spectacle show there is a layer of campiness that can be expected, but this production holds nothing back. From the stunning costumes to the sideshow numbers from supporting characters, this show is full of flash.

The lighting helps beautifully with this, as it is one of the most elaborate aspects of the show. Swirls, spirals and circles of green, pink and blue dance around the stage and the audience. All of this is framed by a giant archway of light that changes color to match the mood of the scene.

The choreography makes up some of the most exciting parts of the musical numbers. The confidence and ability that the talent brings to the scenes are mystifying.

But a musical is not simply its peripherals; there is acting and singing involved, too. That is where the performance lacks.

There are some great, standout performances: Cat Wheelehan, third-year theater performance major, is pure and relatable as the female lead, Sandra D. – and she can sing stunningly. Katie Ford (Rizzo), Andrew Sease (Danny) and Jessica Johns (Ms. Lynch) are also brilliant actors – especially Ford, who has one of the most emotionally sincere scenes of the show.

But none of the main characters were actually the best performer in the production.

Only mentioned as an ensemble member, Antonio Tillman stole the show – honing the outlandish performance of James Brown or Otis Redding, Tillman is fully committed to his songs and character. He plays with the audience, banters with the actors on stage and hypes himself – “Do ya like my suit, y’all?” His part came to fill more than twenty minutes of the two-hour show, and received the most applause of opening night.

He is so much fun that it’s sad when he leaves. The crowd stood and clapped at the end of his first number as if saying, “Why can’t you be in the show more?”

Outside of the aforementioned actors, the rest of the cast is slightly forgettable. It’s easy to get lost in the shuffle in a two-hour musical with near-constant musical numbers, and most of the cast does. Intonation issues and a general lack of vocal standouts make most of the show fun to look at but not to listen to.

Some of the cast even looked as if they were phoning in their musical numbers, and punctuated each lyric with a look of disinterest.

The microphone work didn’t help – balance and mixing during entrances and musical numbers was jarringly poor, but compensated for with the dancing, which was, again, on point.

If you love a good amount of flash and fun, “Grease” is for you; just be ready to wait for a song that matches the brilliance of everything else going on – or at least go to see Tillman bring the house down.

*

Photos by Amber-Lynn Taber

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