Few shows have every audience member grinning before the curtain rises. Oh, the power of “Grease.” Playing at the Warner Theatre, the 1972 musical, written by Jim Jacobs and Warren Casey and directed by Ray DeMattis, will make you throw a few dance moves into your step during the walk home.
On a stage decked out in 1950s regalia – pictures of Elvis and Cadillacs, record players and juke boxes – Vince Fontaine (the endlessly energetic Arthur J.M. Callahan) gets the crowd going audience participation. Nothing warms up a crowd like a five-year-old boy playing the air guitar onstage to win the Rock ‘n’ Roll dance concert.
After the entertaining introduction, the show gets started with high energy, hokey renditions of well-known songs such as “Summer Nights” and “Those Magic Changes.” These and other songs feature the well-tuned voices of the hungry-for-lovin’ Burger Palace Boys (T Boys in the movie) and the we-know-we’re-hot Pink Ladies.
In that easy way of musicals, the kids pair off into couples as Danny Zuko (Jamey Isenor) and Sandy Dumbrowski (Hanna-Liina Vosa) do in the finale, but not without complications along the way – including a pregnancy scare for the saucy and sarcastic Rizzo (Jacqueline Colmer) and “Greased Lightnin'” cruiser Kenickie (John Ashley).
The characters and issues presented in “Grease” are mere caricatures of real life, but more realistic portrayals of teenage angst and sexual activity would not entertain the audience of young and old to nearly the same level. Few could resist the temptation to at least sway in their seats during the peppy songs such as “We Go Together” and “Born to Hand Jive.”
In the full-company songs, the ensemble shows off the dance moves of choreographer Christopher Gattelli. Although most of the moves are simple, the dancers are always in synch and the routines are peppered with guys tossing and spinning their female dance partners.
But no one can boast such a clear voice as Frankie Avalon, who stars as Teen Angel. The audience erupts into applause and cheers as Avalon’s silhouette appears in the spotlight. When he begins to sing, you understand why he is so famous. Those disappointed that Teen Angel only appears in one song – although a great one (“Beauty School Dropout”) – are thrilled to see him reappear on stage after the cast’s encore presentation of a medley of songs. Avalon ends the night by conversing with the audience and singing his hits.
Although the cast of “Grease” delivers a wonderful, high-energy rendition of the popular musical, the highlights of the performance are easily Callahan’s crowd-rousing opening and Avalon’s warm, personable conclusion. Both segments make the audience feel appreciated and welcome. It seems as if the performers are really there because of the patrons. Yes, they’re telling us that “Grease” is still the word.
Showing at the Warner Theatre, 1299 Pennsylvania Ave., NW, through March 16.