In this second Broadway revival, the Jim Jacobs-Warren Casey blockbuster still asks the same musical question and gets the same dubious answer. But it also asks another musical question: Did the American public that watched the NBC reality-show Grease: You're the One That I Want choose the right twosome to go together like rama-lama-lama-ka-ding-it-y ding dong?
The long-awaited answer is that leads Max Crumm and Laura Osnes make a cute but not instantly combustible couple as Danny and Sandy. When they wrap themselves around each other, the result is a gentle glow rather than flying sparks. As a result, the central love story simmers but doesn't have the non-stop drive and verve needed to make this expensive but under-budgeted looking reprise more than an adequate return visit to Rydell High School.
Crumm was probably elected to stardom because of his high likability quotient -- not necessarily the priority requirement for the supposedly heart-throbby Danny. His confidence when singing certainly didn't hurt. Osnes, who's noticeably not blond as some of the notable Sandy predecessors have been, has the appealing girl-next-door quality if the girl next door happens to have chromium-lined pipes. Her delivery of "Hopelessly Devoted to You," John Farrar's addition to the 1978 movie, is explanation enough for her being tapped.
Moreover, both Crumm and Osnes turn out to be much better dancers than they had the opportunity to demonstrate on the only modestly successful NBC series. They're likely as good as any two unknowns producer David Ian and director/choreographer Kathleen Marshall might have turned up in a traditional casting process. Both winners trained in musical theater -- Osnes was playing Sandy in a stock production when she first auditioned for the boob-tube competish -- and they may become more commanding as what shapes up as a potentially acceptable run gathers momentum.
It should be pointed out that if they don't explode into their roles more than they have, it's not entirely their fault. They're asked to prove their newcomer mettle in a tuner blatantly beginning to show its age. Maybe the lax Danny-Sandy puppy-love story has always been scattershot and the jokes blunted. Plot-wise, the explanation for the sweet-tempered Sandy being asked to join the saucy Pink Ladies bunch never made sense. Not that underneath the adolescent bravado all the teens in Grease are anything less than nice kids.
But when Grease was first presented, it had a satirical edge that enabled it to do more than get by. The original score consisted almost song by song of send-ups audiences immediately recognized from recent Top 40 exposure. Though the Jacobs-Casey pieces --augmented by Barry Gibb, Louis St. Louis, Scott Simon, and John Farrar movie additions -- are still the show's prime attractions, the cutting-edge is now dulled.
Marshall, who's earned a deserved reputation for revitalizing classics and minor classics, doesn't exactly hit her previous heights, either. She imbues the production with enough greased lightnin' to match the enthusiastic song the hot-rod-happy Rydell boys sing, but eventually the musical numbers begin to look like too much of the same hand-jive.
Cast members who were signed the old-fashioned way don't let Marshall down either, although some of them look as if their only reason for still being in high school is a history of repeating grades. Nevertheless, stand-out performers include Jenny Powers as the tough-as-nails Rizzo, who slams "There Are Worse Things I Could Do" to the rafters, and hefty Daniel Everidge, as Roger, who turns his steely version of the pun-heavy "Mooning" into an ear-pinner.
Grease kicks off with a title tune including the teen-lament lyrics "This is a life of illusion, wrapped up in troubles/Laced in confusion. What are we doin' here?" The hand-wringing sentiment seems to promise a different experience than the one offered. What Ian, Marshall, and gang are doin' here is exhibiting the beloved Grease as at best a mild nostalgic diversion.