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Review: 'Grease' at the Pantages Theatre

March 12, 2009 |  3:45 pm


The Soul Patrol meets the high school musical in the latest revival of “Grease,” now running at Pantages Theatre. Southern charmer and “American Idol” winner Taylor Hicks descends from a giant soft-serve cone for a winning cameo in this high-energy, low-personality revival of Jim Jacobs and Warren Casey’s classic.

The story of a greaser and a goody-two-shoes whose troubled love is liberated by a can of hairspray and a serious dose of décolletage, “Grease” isn’t the smartest kid in class, but it sure knows how to dance. Directed and choreographed by multiple Tony winner Kathleen Marshall, this show’s strength is its nonstop kinetic exuberance and committed young cast, who tear it up in big ensemble numbers like “Greased Lightning” and “We Go Together.”

Taylor_hicksSet designer Derek McLane keeps lobbing visual pleasures at the audience to distract from the thin book. The opening image, dancers bursting out a row of drab school lockers, really pops, and the drive-in is represented by a giant drop with a Warholesque pattern of classic cars. Martin Pakledinaz dresses the limber cast in all the best vintage colors — celadon, cherry red, chartreuse — although the standout costume pieces were the hair-dryer headgear worn by dancing salon customers in the dream sequence, “Beauty School Dropout.” Tom Whiddon’s band is tight and jaunty, despite uneven sound levels that threatened to overwhelm some of the singing.

Amid the dazzling stage pictures, the story feels oddly small, and Marshall’s efforts to emphasize the play’s trash talk just draw attention to the sketchy characterization. “Grease” is a pageant, not a play, which is why it’s built for star turns and not straight acting.

As bad boy Danny, Eric Schneider is so sensitive you wonder why he’s a greaser and not a member of the drama club. But Schneider’s got the moves, and delivers an affecting “Sandy” in the second act. Emily Padgett’s poodle-skirted Sandy seems more excited by the thought of a makeover (“Look at Me, I’m Sandra Dee” in the second act) than by her boyfriend (“Hopelessly Devoted to You”). And you can see why — Padgett appears totally freed by her skintight outfit in the finale. The appealing Kate Morgan Chadwick manages to find something fresh in the role of Frenchy, a dizzy stylist-in-the-making with a penchant for Easter-basket hair hues. Brian Crum’s Doody, sweet-voiced and genuine, also shines.

And then there’s Mr. Hicks, who shows these youngsters what stage presence is all about. Resplendent in a black suit glittering with rhinestones, tongue firmly in cheek, Hicks appears as the Teen Angel who advises Frenchy to go back to class in the sly “Dropout.” If only all guidance counselors had such a sense of event. (Hicks will not be performing March 18 and 19).  Yes, he’s shamelessly plugging his new album, “The Distance,” but Mr. Hicks amps up the glamour factor and is a welcome guest. I just wish he’d played his harmonica longer.

-- Charlotte Stoudt

“Grease,” Pantages Theatre, 6233 Hollywood Blvd., Hollywood. 8 p.m. Tuesday through Friday, 2 p.m. and 8 p.m. Saturday, 1p.m. and 6:30 p.m. Sunday. Ends March 22. $25-$85. Contact: (213) 365-3500. Running time: 2 hours, 20 minutes.

Top photo: The cast of "Grease." Bottom photo: Taylor Hicks. Credit: Joan Marcus