Grease Jr: A Review of the Musical
A review of the family-friendly production
from TYKEs (Theatre Young Kids Enjoy)
Is Grease, Jr. more appropriate for young kids than Grease?
At School of the Arts, University Avenue
Through October 28, 2007
Reviewed by Debra Ross
Yesterday, I took my 6- and 8-year-old to the family-friendly performance of Grease put on by TYKEs (Theatre Young Kids Enjoy) at the School of the Arts. Regular readers of KidsOutAndAbout.com will remember from the weekly e-newsletter that I took them to what turned out to be the not-so-family-friendly traditional performance of Grease as done by Stages, in September 2007. As I said, that one probably wasn't the best choice, because of how much of the show portrays aspects of "rebellious" teen life to which my kids hadn't been exposed: Peer pressure, smoking, drinking, swearing, and teen pregnancy. I hadn't remembered those things as the main point of Grease, even though I had actually been in Grease in high school. I had quite a bit to explain during the car ride home.
Therefore, I was delighted to hear about this TYKEs production, which billed itself as family-friendly. I was skeptical, though. How could they pull off a family-friendly version of Grease without violating the original authors' intent for the show? So many of the words of the famous songs that make Grease what it is are decidedly not family-friendly. ("Look at me, I'm Sandra Dee, lousy with virginity...") Well, it turns out that there couldn't be any violation of authorial intent, because in fact, Warren Casey and Jim Jacobs, who wrote Grease back in 1971, are the authors of this version as well. And not only were entire scenes deleted with no real loss (such as where Rizzo confesses to Frenchy that she thinks she's pregnant), but in many cases the rewritten lyrics are more clever than in the original. When Freyda Schneider asked the audience at intermission to see if they could identify any real differences between their production and the movie, none of the kids could.
How about this particular production? Well, a large percentage of the actors are professionals, which definitely is reflected in the quality of the show. The part of Sandy, though, is played by Teri Madonna, a 16-year-old Mercy High School student, but she was so good that it was impossible to single her out as somehow different than the rest of the cast. The only two numbers in the entire production that I could identify as less than stellar were "Freddy My Love" and "Beauty School Dropout." Another nice aspect of the TYKEs production is that the sound quality is perfect: The accompanists are neither overwhelming nor timid.
My girls loved the show, although they're not nearly as fussy about these kinds of things as their mother. Madison (8) said that she understood it much better than the last Grease, but then my little logician qualified that thusly: "I can't tell if it's just that this is the second time I've seen it, or if I really understood it better than the last show. I wish I'd seen it first." My girls are at the beginning of the perfect ages for this show, which is about 8-13, I'd think, but Ella, who is 6, liked it perhaps even more than her sister. Then again, Ella is just itching to get up on stage and sing and dance, herself, and I can never bring her to one of these nice quality productions without her imagining herself up there getting the applause. And Grease is one of those shows that has you just wanting to teach your kids the hand jive. (I did.)
Ultimately, though, I have a quibble with Grease, whether this version or the original. It doesn't really amount to anything; it's almost impossible to identify a message in the show. I think that the ending is meant to convey that Sandy and Danny take psychological steps toward each other: Danny becomes less hood-like, and Sandy lets loose a little, so they are able to get together as a couple in their shared cultural context of Rydell High School. I kind of get what happens to Danny: After all, he actually matures, as you're supposed to do when you're 18. But Sandy? She stops being exclusively a conservative good girl and decides to change her entire persona ("Goodbye to Sandra Dee"). Maybe I'm just a congenital good girl myself, but this all seems pointless to me. It's difficult to believe, at the end, that Sandy has made a good choice. Even in this particular production where she doesn't actually look like a slut at the end, it is in no way clear that Sandy's eschewal of her poodle skirt means that she has progressed in any meaningful way.
All that being said, though, Grease retains a status in our culture of being a musical that explores the difficulty of growing up. So if you'd like your children to enjoy the cultural experience of Grease without worrying about certain messages filtering through to impressionable minds, don't miss this weekend's afternoon productions at School of the Arts, at 2pm Saturday, October 27 and Sunday, October 28, 2007. For tickets, call the Box Office at 585-723-6080.
©2007, Debra Ross