FL MORRIS / FMORRIS@STARBULLETIN.COM
Performers during the opening night of Army Community Theatre's "Grease" production at Richardson Theatre encountered a few sound problems Thursday but still put on a good show. CLICK FOR LARGE
'Grease' needs a lube job
AMONG Japanese theater traditions is that of the "koken" -- masked, black-clad stagehands who move among performers, making set changes and costume adjustments while the action is in progress, but who are regarded as "invisible" by the characters and the audience. A similar approach might have avoided one of the problems that plagues Army Community Theatre's "Grease," a production in which the set changes -- and several short scenes -- take place in murky semidarkness. There's enough light to see bodies and set pieces move in the gloaming, but not enough for that movement to add energy or entertainment value.
Presented by Army Community Theatre
» Place: Richardson Theatre, Fort Shafter
» When: 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday through May 26
» Tickets: $15 and $20
» Call: 438-4480 or on-line at www.squareone.org/act
Had director CoCo Wiel kept the lights up for the set changes and called on choreographer Jennifer B. Shannon to add some visual pizazz to the proceedings, the repositioning of pieces of Jon Savage's modular set could have boosted the show's energy level rather than lowering it.
Unfortunately, there's a bigger problem with ACT's production than the set changes. "Grease" is what it is, a relatively mean-spirited and crude parody of the rock music and teen-oriented B-movies of the late 1950s. It conveys the message that scholastics, sports and virginity are for losers and that smoking, drinking, dressing provocatively and being sexually active are cool things to do in high school. Gang member Danny Zuko runs track to impress a cheerleader but quits when the coach tells him to cut his hair; virginal Sandy Dumbrowski wins Danny's heart by becoming a sexpot, joining a gang and punching out the cheerleader.
OK, so everybody knows that! The problem is that "Grease" is a musical, and musicals must have clear, well-balanced sound so that singers can be heard and lyrics understood. That's not happening at ACT. Wiel's generally talented cast doesn't get adequate audio for many of the numbers.
"BEAUTY School Dropout," usually one of the show's biggest numbers, became a tragic exercise in pantomime on opening night because Al Waterson (Teen Angel) was performing with a dead microphone. Waterson is a seasoned, showroom-caliber vocalist, but the only times he could be heard were when he got close enough to Jenny Kimura (Frenchy) for his voice to be picked up by her microphone!
Sound problems also helped make Pedro Haro's portrayal of guitar-playing teen heartthrob Johnny Casino less than it should have been, and sapped the impact and energy of several other big numbers. The best that can be said about the sound is that the primary problem was the lack of volume rather than feedback or the sound of microphones rubbing against costumes -- operator error, apparently, rather than defective equipment.
THE FAILURE to achieve proper sound levels might explain why so much of the show's funny, albeit crude humor -- about sex, menstruation, condoms, "mooning," smoking, drinking cheap wine and similar subjects -- didn't get the expected responses.
At least there are some good performances to be enjoyed by audience members close enough to hear them.
It takes a while to get used to the sight of Shawna Masuda (Sandy) wearing a blond wig, but she quickly makes the character her own. Masuda does particularly well with "It's Raining on Prom Night" and "Look at Me, I'm Sandra Dee (Reprise)." She has several good scenes opposite Kekoa Young (Danny) and makes a great impression in the final scene when the made-over Sandy makes her debut as a sexpot, dressed in black, smoking and with a much sexier hairstyle.
Vida Mae Fernandez (Rizzo) also overcomes the challenges posed by the substandard sound design and makes her two numbers musical and emotional highlights. Sean Jones (Kenickie) reaffirms his credentials as a romantic lead opposite Fernandez and displays his talent as a song-and-dance man in "Greased Lightnin'."
James Kimo Kaona (Roger) and Pomai Lopez (Jan) do a delightful job with "Mooning" as they balance the comic and romantic elements perfectly.
The shifting expressions on Lopez's face convey Jan's thoughts -- and her sudden epiphany -- in endearing style. Public exhibitionism has never seemed more romantic!
LANAI TABURA (Vince Fontaine) becomes another asset with his work in the big "high school hop" scene as we watch him play a smarmy disk jockey who spends more time hitting on high school girls than emceeing the event. Richard Bragdon (Eugene) adds another comic genre to the scene with a perfect pratfall he executes during the dancing.
Heather Ensley (Marty) makes memorable contributions to several scenes as the most materialistic member of the Pink Ladies.
Give Young credit for doing an impressive job in all respects with "Alone at a Drive-in Movie" and for conveying Danny's sensitive side, but he never comes close to making Danny believable as a gang member. He also looks drugged rather than "choked up" and turned on by the newly made-over Sandy in the finale.
Fans of "Grease" know that three of the songs most often associated with the show are from the movie and not usually part of a stage production, although they were included in the production starring Frankie Avalon that played Honolulu in 2004. Musical director Daren Kimura makes up for that by playing "You're the One That I Want" as the overture. Kimura and his musicians do justice to the material; with luck, someone will figure out how to mike the show before it closes.