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Friday, October 9, 2009

Memoirs of a Greaser

Posted by on Fri, Oct 9, 2009 at 2:36 PM

click to enlarge Professional greasers (no teenagers need apply) Photo by Joan Marcus
  • Professional greasers (no teenagers need apply) Photo by Joan Marcus

DPAC/ Durham-My first encounter with Grease lasted precisely 24 minutes.

It was 1998 and I was in sixth grade in Western North Carolina, still getting used to my new contact lenses and wearing my hair all the way down my back. It was also the year the movie version of the "girl meets boy, boy breaks out in song, girl and boy shimmy and shake into what they think the other wants them to be" love story was re-released into theaters-just 20 years after Olivia Newton-John and John Travolta (the great-grandparents of Brangelina) first rocked spandex and lettermen jackets around the hallowed halls of Rydell High.

My mom must have forgotten over those two decades the not-so-subtle sexual innuendo and backseat car scenes of the film, because it wasn't long after the movie's animated opening credits that we were out the door and onto the mall in pursuit of more age-appropriate and morally suitable entertainment, like the new Spice Girls CD.

The film, based on the Broadway musical, seemed forever doomed to be a covert sleepover staple until we hit senior class musical gold: Grease would be the word in the halls of my high school and everybody was pumped. Finally, we'd be able to put all those hours of hand-jiving and hip-thrusts to good use. However, we quickly figured out the movie and musical versions have different songs, characters, scenery and dialogue.

(What we didn't figure out quite as quickly was what Rizzo means by "gangbang" when she meets up with the T-Birds late one night or what exactly those "yellow leaves" are in the park in Act 2. You try squirming through your middle-aged theater teacher's explanation of group rape and leftover condoms, then launching into the ninth run-through of "Those Magic Changes." Awkward.)

Just like the discrepancies between the musical and the film, I found that there are a handful of differences between our cast's high school performance of Grease and the stylish, exuberant show and cast that landed at the Durham Performing Arts Center (DPAC) this week.

While sitting in the near-capacity theater on Thursday night, I noticed three differences from the  production at North Henderson High School in 2000:

1. The DPAC Grease show boasts American Idol alum Taylor Hicks. While I'm tempted to believe this is only because the reality show hadn't yet premiered in 2001 when we staged our version, I don't think it would have mattered. In our high school, we didn't quite have the dressing room space for a star of the stature of Kelly Clarkson, Fantasia or even that Sanjaya dude, and our catering would have come from Sonic. I have to admit that Hicks, who reprises his Broadway role as a Teen Angel with personal space issues, puts his Silver Fox look to good use and injects a soulful twist and a random harmonica solo into the classic "Beauty School Dropout." All we had was a teacher named Mr. Taylor, but I'm pretty sure he never came to any of our shows, or played the harmonica.

2. We were high school students circa 2000 acting as high school students circa 1959, while this 20- and 30-something cast must play down to this age demographic. In theory, this would be a plus for our version: On and offstage, we were dealing with teenage heartbreak, graduation requirements and celebrity worship. However, it is clear by their performances that these talented actors-including Lewisville native Emily Padgett, who plays Sandy-have more experience and skill in the areas of moving in rhythm with music and staying on pitch, and it turns out that these things are vital to the success of a Broadway musical.

3. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, Cha-Cha DiGregorio doesn't hold a candle to the Cha-Cha in our high school version. Sure, Dayla Perkins does a solid job as the brash, big-haired, gum-chewing dancer, if you like that whole "professionally trained, used-to-be-a-Disney-princess" thing (seriously, it's in her bio in the program). If I'm being completely honest as an experienced theater critic-which I would definitely consider myself to be, now that I've written roughly 700 total words on the subject-I would have to say that our Cha-Cha won by high kick and will soon see her name up in lights on Broadway.

Or, I guess I could just settle for this article's byline.

Grease runs through Sunday, Oct. 11, at the Durham Performing Arts Center at 123 Vivian St. downtown Durham. Tickets are $25-$70, with a $20 student rush special two hours before curtain.


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