Throwback at the theater: "Grease" at the Oprheum

By Tatiana Craine

In chilly Minneapolis this week, it’s definitely clear that “Grease” is the word.Years ago, my high school put on a slightly sanitized production of “Grease.” I had never seen the stage or film version and was introduced to the wonder of “Grease” for the first time. Since then, I’ve seen the film several times, and even tried watching the sequel. But I hadn’t returned to “Grease” the same way I fell in love with it on stage-until tonight.

“Grease” has found its way into the hearts of millions since the 1970s when it first graced the stage before becoming one of the longest running Broadway shows ever. The newest tour of “Grease” breezing through the Orpheum Theatre features the talents of myriad young Broadway performers and even an American Idol.

The show opened with Vince Fontaine, the overly tanned, overly sexed, overly popular radio DJ from “Grease” coming out to warm up the crowd before the show by getting audience members to shout out their hometowns and bust a few dance moves. The show’s start perfectly indicated the caliber of the performance to come.

It’s the first day of school at Rydell High in 1959. The Pink Ladies, the hippest girls in school, gush about their summers during lunch until a new addition to the group comes: Sandy Dumbrowski (Lauren Ashley Zakrin). Meanwhile, Danny Zuko (Eric Schneider) and his gang of T-Birds, the coolest guys around, start talking about the chicks they hung out with the last few months. Little do the Pink Ladies and the T-Birds know, goody-goody Sandy and bad-boy Danny had some crazy “Summer Lovin.'” But before Sandy can say, “Hi,” Danny plays off the summer romance like nothing happened, leading to a whole year of back-and-forth pining between the two fickle lovers.

However, Sandy and Danny aren’t the only cool cats around Rydell High. Tough-talking Rizzo, ditzy Frenchy, fun-loving Jan and saucy Marty round out the Pink Ladies while Kenickie, Roger, Sonny and Doody make up the T-Birds. The cast excels as an ensemble; each of the actors shine during their solos, but most remarkably during their group scenes.

Zakrin played a good-hearted Sandy, her soprano voice projecting above and beyond the balcony. Schneider brought a new spin to his performance of Danny, as less of a tough guy and more of a misunderstood teen. Allie Schulz as Rizzo proved to be one of the brightest actresses that graced the stage with gritty and emotional power behind her sarcastic character. American Idol winner Taylor Hicks made an appearance as Teen Angel, singing a rousing rendition of “Beauty School Dropout.” There were even a few Idol jokes thrown in, which had the audience roaring in their seats.

The production carried the spunky and raunchy attitude behind “Grease” astoundingly. More than just sock hops and burger joints, the show touches on tougher problems like sex, gangs, teen pregnancy and failing out of school. The set and lighting design complimented each other well, especially as characters launched into solos and the star drop lit up behind them.

At the end of the show, the audience clapped their hands and tapped their feet in time with the actors and the live orchestra. A standing ovation greeted each of the cast members, and Hicks came out on stage once more to promote his newest album.

Over all, the show was a resounding success with an enthusiastic cast, orchestra and crew that got the entire crowd in the Orpheum Theatre chanting, “Tell me more, tell me more.” After more than 30 years, there’s no doubt that “Grease” hasn’t lost its touch.