Nearly thirty years after its Broadway opening, Grease has hit Colorado Springs, a city celebrated for its keen eye for detecting a trend. This time out, the play is riding a wave of nostalgia once removed, rekindling memories of the '70s era second-hand love of the past. But despite an over-familiarity with the musical-turned-movie, the Repertory Theatre production on stage at the Fine Arts Center is a re-energized treatment fresh enough to rattle a generation convinced that all Sweathogs graduate to greasers and that the all-American girl next door is an Aussie.
Kevyn Shea's direction puts the emphasis back on the ensemble, using plot and character as secondary devices to link vignettes with irresistible musical numbers. If "We Go Together" turns the ignition on by way of introducing the Pink Ladies and the Burger Palace Boys, then by the time "Summer Nights" hits the stage a few moments later, we're in high gear, shooda-bop-bopping and doo-wanging along.
The show is filled with great moments from the ensemble. Ricardo Vila-Roger steals a moment early on with a winning version of "Those Magic Changes," one of many numbers that use Pam Kellen's simple but effective choreography to establish the group dynamic on the stage, making the audience feel a part of the party and encouraging the tapping of toes out there in the dark. Emory John Collinson brings his comic instincts to the role of Sonny, and Dant Martinez adds another refreshing touch with "Mooning," a double-entendre-laced duet with Victoria Fulbright that relishes the romance in the lost art of revealing one's rump.
There are fewer moments for the Pink Ladies to shine individually, but the solid core of actresses make the most of each opportunity. With Virginia Henley as Frenchy, the sensitive "Beauty School Dropout," Cindy LaViolette as the "experienced" Marty, and Victoria Fulbright as the all-consuming Jan, the core cast of characters making up the ensemble raise the stakes with indelible interpretations of their unique characters.
Although the lead characters ultimately leap over to the dark side, striking a subtly subversive pose by refusing a rosy-cheeked reaffirmation of Eisenhower-era values, Shea leads his cast to tap into the latent wholesomeness of the characters. Vila-Roger, Henley, LaViolette, Martinez, and Fulbright locate an inner honesty in their characters that offsets the more superficial obsessions of the more prominent characters.
And if Sandy's transformation is hard to swallow, Rizzo's steadfast assurance is oddly affirming. H. Rali Gilchrist is captivating in the part from her earliest lines, through her "Greased Lightnin'" and "Sandra Dee" send-ups right on through the vulnerability of "There Are Worse Things I Could Do," perhaps the show's most effective moment.
This cast thoroughly enjoys inhabiting the musical and its collection of characters, and the end result is pure fun. The show has its share of light-heartedly suggestive moments, inevitable in a story anchored in high-school hormones, but it's as close as contemporary theater gets to good clean fun, suitable for the whole family. The Repertory Theatre has suddenly gotten younger with this production, and despite the perception of the play as an old warhorse, it's hard to escape the sense that the company is taking an important step toward the future in pulling off this production.
If you're feeling Greased out because you've worn out your tape of the movie, prepare for a refreshing evening blending familiar favorites with some lost gems for a satisfying taste of the original.