"...Smooth and slick and fun but emotionally as deep as a 1950s crew-cut, the new Grease lives up to its title in too many ways.
The more-youthful casting works up to a point in the peppy Broadway tour, which opened yesterday at the Palace Theatre.
The performers certainly sing and dance well, reflecting the spirit of vibrant but insecure adolescence. Yet, the acting mostly ranges from the generic to the cartoonish.
Director Kathleen Marshall makes up somewhat for the one-dimensionality when she isn't causing or allowing it with nifty choreography, brisk pacing and elegant scene transitions.
As disc jockey Vince Fontaine, Dominic Fortuna leads a pre-show with wisecracks, a sing-along and hand waving designed to set the mood and capitalize on aging boomers' palpable desire to fall in love again with a favorite musical about idealized high-school rites of passage.
Such expectations falter a bit as the two-act show progresses, buoyed here and there by the energetic reprise of Summer Nights, Greased Lightning, We Go Together, Born to Hand-Jive and a few other golden sequences.
Even those great songs are undercut by a blaring oldies-rock orchestration that occasionally obscures lyrics. That may especially irritate those who walk in without already knowing all the words (but for the baby-boomer generation, who doesn't?).
While the 1978 movie was a star vehicle partly because of the many close-ups on John Travolta, Olivia Newton-John and Stockard Channing (the definitive Rizzo, much missed onstage) the stage version always was more of an ensemble piece.
Without the star quality needed to add personality and nuance to their roles, the young actors playing the leads tend to approach individuality only during their solos such as Sandy (by Eric Schneider as greaser Danny), Hopelessly Devoted to You (by Emily Padgett as school newcomer Sandy) and There Are Worse Things I Could Do (by Allie Schulz as tough-but-tender Rizzo)
A pleasant exception: David Ruffin, whose sensitivity as Kenickie can be felt throughout his scenes.
Predictably, the strength of this tour, which reflects the movie more with added songs, is its ensemble and crowd scenes. Among the supporting players adding vivid humor: sweet but hapless Frenchy (Kate Morgan Chadwick), gawky Doody (Brian Crum), nerdy Eugene (Scot Patrick Allan) and Miss Lynch (Roxy Lucas).
Taylor Hicks, an American Idol winner, seizes his magical moment. As Teen Angel, he sings Beauty School Dropout with a stirring voice and charming presence that nods with a few grins to his celebrity. Others may prefer the golden-oldie singers who filled the role on film or previous tours, but Hicks gets my vote.
The candy-colored design and glow of idealized nostalgia extends through Derek McLane's scenery, Martin Pakledinaz's costumes and Kenneth Posner's lighting.
Many fans will walk into this revival wanting to like it more than they will when they leave. Even so, the songs are such catchy favorites that just about everyone should have a good-enough time..."