UNLV’s ‘Grease’ entertains but sometimes seems one-dimensional


Nevada Conservatory Theatre presents a version of the adored musical “Grease” that is within reach but frustratingly slips through the fingers.

Though it embodies the 1950s sock-hop aesthetic, entertains and often satisfies the senses, the production sometimes feels one-dimensional and lacks fluidity.

Not entirely the fault of the company, Jim Jacob and Warren Casey’s piece comes off as a series of musical vignettes interspersed with a thin narrative that seems detached and doesn’t quite flow into a complete picture.

Plus, the presentation suffers the pressure of living up to the iconic 1978 movie, images of which are stamped on many of our brains. Thus, the enduring story about the quirky teenagers of Rydell High is inescapably difficult to make fresh.

In the hands of director and choreographer Tim Bennett and associate Andrea Avruskin, there isn’t an overriding theme. Characters are white bread, without distinguishing class differences or goofy teenage charm, and the dialogue scenes are sometimes lazy in pace.

But the dance staging is outstanding and includes intricate ’50s-style jigs, with some dreamy lyrical and jazz delivered in places by the excellent corps. Group numbers feel the most lively.

The prom dance scene, with the entire company swinging and singing “Shakin’ at the High School Hop” and “Born to Hand Jive” is particularly successful at drawing us in.

The performances are mixed. The pivotal characters, Sandy and Danny, played by Niki Scalera and Darek Riley, aren’t fully realized as a couple, and though they don’t have much interaction to begin with, the dialogue scenes they do have together aren’t punctuated and the two regrettably don’t share a certain spark. And while their uniting number, “You’re the One That I Want,” does manage to delight, the two shine more when singing individually.

There are those who completely inhabit the souls of their characters, most notably Sam Cordes as T-Bird Kenickie. He presents a total picture of the gruff-teddy-bear type guy and contributes mightily to the terrific number “Greased Lightnin’.”

Jordan Fenn is endearing as T-Bird Doody and brings considerable charm to his cute solo, “Those Magic Changes.” As Pink Lady Jan, Sydney Peca Story exudes sweetness and strength and gives a lovely “It’s Raining on Prom Night,” harmonizing nicely with Scalera in a pleasing duet.

Madison Kisst is engaging as Pink Lady Frenchy and shines in her signature duet with Teen Angel Bruce Ewing, who avidly displays his accomplished and polished vocal talent in “Beauty School Dropout,” though the number as a whole feels claustrophobic.

Both the funny Norma Morrow as the matronly Miss Lynch and a cheerful Victoria Spelman as the outgoing Patty are also notable in their smaller parts.

Production values are effective, though the scenic design, by Molly Bailey, includes cumbersome set pieces that stagehands struggle to move.

NCT’s “Grease” is enjoyable despite its problems and provides notable nostalgia, especially for those who can claim the era as their own.

 

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