WITH the movie musical version starring John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John as my only reference, I was able to catch 9Works Theatrical’s latest on-stage production of “Grease” at the RCBC Theater in Makati a few weeks ago.
Having caught John and Olivia’s “Grease” in my early teens, the movie left such an impression on me that it has become one of my all-time popcorn favorites.
I know by heart bits and pieces of lyrics and melodies of some of the songs, including “Summer Lovin’,” “Hopelessly Devoted to You,” “You’re the One that I Want,” “Sandy,” and, yes, “Beauty School Dropout.”
I must admit that not too many people would consider it as a great piece of work, but “Grease” belongs to a special category of movies I love just because.
In other words, director Robbie Guevara and his cast, led by former teen star Antoinette Taus as the cool and seemingly sophisticated Betty Rizzo (played with saucy relish by Stockard Channing in the movie), have their work cut out for them.
“Grease” is fun but never easy to make. Because of its big cast and series of signature songs, it has become a challenge for every director who decides to work on “Grease” to tweak and rework the musical without losing its feel and essence.
(Since it was press night, director and cast later went on stage after the performance to answer questions from journalists. I learned that it was 9Works and Guevara’s second time to stage “Grease” with a partially different cast.)
Did they ruin my “Grease,” or were they able to hold their own by weaving their unique brand of magic into such a well-loved and classic musical set in Rydell High sometime in the 1950s?
I’m happy to say that far from ruining it, Taus and company exceeded expectations and rose up to a number of challenges, including an exceedingly small stage and presumably limited budget.
If there are two good reasons to watch this “Grease,” I’d say it would be Taus, who proved to be a revelation for her dark, on-target characterization and pitch-perfect singing, and the younger, less experienced Tippy Dos Santos as female lead Sandy Dumbrowski.
Blessed with loads of stage presence, the pretty Dos Santos also has the pipes to lend justice to her spot numbers. She practically owned the stage as she sang “Hopelessly Devoted to You.”
He may not be as riveting as Travolta, but Guji Lorenzana’s more down-to-earth rendition of male lead Danny Zuko proved likable.
Since probably no one can be as dashing and larger-than-life as Travolta during his prime, Lorenzana tried to do the opposite by being more self-effacing in his characterization. The push and pull between sure and unsure made for quite an engaging performance.
But Taus and company’s efforts to shine on stage would have been dimmed without an equally talented and committed cast of supporting actors led by Rafa Siguion-Reyna as Kenickie, Peachy Atilano as Frenchy, Sarah Facuri as Jan, Nelsito Gomez as Sonny and Alexandra Godinez as Marty, among others.
In fact, “Grease,” given its underlying team of high school camaraderie among a bunch of rebel misfits during a supposedly more innocent time, is one of those productions that require a strong cast of supporting actors for it to work.
For one, the choreography is big, bold, fast and quite demanding. Groups scenes and, if you will, split “screens” are plenty. And with spot numbers for almost every character, “Grease” offers its actors plenty of opportunities to either wow or reveal to the audience their weaknesses.
To Guevara and his collaborators’ credit, including choreographers Arnold Trinidad and Francis Matheu and musical directors Joseph Tolentino and Sweet Plantado, they were able to maximize the musical’s unique features and requirements by assembling a good cast and honing each member to shine in solo performances while still being able to blend seamlessly in group numbers.
And, oh, we were lucky to catch JM Rodriguez as the evening’s Teen Angel. With his beautiful voice and seemingly ad hoc performance style as Frenchy’s inner voice, the veteran stage actor and singer showed both colleagues and audience alike what real acting in a musical is all about.
Apart from Rodriguez, Guevara’s bench of performers to play the cameo role is stellar and pretty deep: my high school classmate Bimbo Cerrudo, Michael de Mesa, Audie Gemora, Franco Laurel, Jed Madela, OJ Mariano, Raul Montessa, Carlo Orosa and, surprise, surprise, Tim Yap.
During the press conference, Rodriguez and the rest of the cast egged on Martin Nievera, who watched the show, to do Teen Angel. The Concert King said that his November schedule was already full, but his December was still open. It would be a treat to see how he puts his own stamp to the role.
“Grease” will run until December 7 at the RCBC Theater on Ayala Avenue, Makati. For inquiries, call 9Works Theatrical at 586-7105 or 0917-544-5560, or email at firstname.lastname@example.org.