We see the '50s as a sexually repressed era of ideal family values, but more than a few of us came from the back seat of a secondhand Dodge.
Grease currently enjoying a revival at Theatre Downtown reflects this gritty reality with a fluidly drawn battle of the sexes hemmed into the hermetic world of Rydell High.
On one side are the Pink Ladies, led by the evil-eyed Rizzo (Shannon Bilo). Grades aren't important to them: Education only covers nicotine, alcohol and cheap prophylactics. Slithering through the trenches are the violent yet lovable Burger Palace Boys. They focus on the same things, with the war between the genders hinging on a game of sexual chicken intercourse equals status, but pregnancy knocks you out of the game. Into this terrarium descends clean-cut Sandy Dumbrowski (Natalie Davidson), newly arrived at the school and completely innocent. She met Danny Zuko (Stephen MacKinnon) over the summer, and without peer pressure to influence him, he treated her well. But around the guys, status demands that he treat her like dirt, and it hurts her. Romance proceeds, but entropy overcomes good intentions; not until Sandy gives herself over to slutdom can everyone be happy.
There's plenty of good stuff happening here, as the fresh faces of CenterStage Orlando (a new group that debuted with a recent production of You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown at the Studio Theatre) mesh with the more experienced denizens of Theatre Downtown. Stephen Pugh dynamically plays the semileader of the pack, Kenickie. He spends time with Rizzo until she catches him exploring the wrong territory and she shoots a glance so withering it scares all the married men in the audience. Watching over the teen shenanigans are the lovable Miss Lynch (Joan Gay) and the oily DJ Vince Fontaine (John Hill). The songs are great, with Teen Angel (Kevin Zepf) offering advice in "Beauty School Dropout." But what really makes this show exciting is the deadly accurate choreography of Katie Muise. These are big production numbers for a small stage, and everyone hits his or her mark, every time.
While Grease oozes entertainment, remember that this not the movie version. The big blowout number "You're the One That I Want" doesn't appear, and the Zuko/ Dumbrowski romance seems almost a subplot in this fight for scarce resources. Can a girl get a man who can get a job? Can a guy get a girl who can avoid pregnancy? The winners get respectable working-class lives, and the losers get scorn and rejection. If that's not the basis of a great musical, I don't know what is.
Through July 24