Thursday, April 2, 2009

Give Grease A Chance

By Josh Curtis

There is a place in most societies where the truly undesirable are sent. Those who will not follow rules, who push boundaries, create pain for others, and are not stable enough mentally or emotionally to not be a danger to society are sent here. This place, while sometime prison-like, is no prison. It is high school. In Midnighters: Blue Moon the writer, Scott Westerfield, says, “High school wasn't a trial by fire or some ordeal that had to be survived. It was all a big joke. You just had to provide the laugh track.”

This “prison” (along with its laugh track) is illustrated musically and movingly by the production of “Grease: School Edition” currently at the SCERA Theater in Orem, performed by the SCERA’s advance performance troupe “Acting Up!” (By “School Edition” we mean that they have removed anything offensive to parents and teachers). Acting Up, full of actual real-life high schoolers, comes together from their own diverse background to put on a show about… (what else?) High School!

The show, which is a cross between West Side Story and High School Musical, begins on a stage brought to you by the Department of Transportation (though the set is two dimensional, that characters are not J). The turn-table of destiny reveals a high school reunion, of sorts, taking place (nobody appears to have aged, which means Botox must be closely connected to grease). The class of ’59 at Rydell High is reminiscing about their high school experience, and the memories that stand out (Like when Johnny kissed Lisa, when Harry missed the winning shot, or when Miss Lynch shot that kid…. Fun stuff like that…). So much has changed over the years, and yet much has remained that same (Miss Lynch, for example, went from looking like the Alice on the Brady Bunch, to wearing a small dog on her head). For many, there were two particular cliques that they recall as being especially noticeable, the “Pink Ladies” (you can guess their favorite color) and the “T Birds” (who cover every OTHER color in fashion).

And so we go back in time to relive these memories. It is the start of Senior Year and after an eventful summer, the leader of the T-Birds, Danny (think “Michael Jackson before his face was made of Legos… and when he was black), is telling his posse (which includes Howdy Doody, a Hobbit, Waldo, and that kid from “Temple of Doom”) about his summer romance. Unknown to him, that romance, Sandy (who makes Pollyanna look emo) has transferred to Rydell high as well and is telling her own version of events to the Pink Ladies. After hearing her story the leader of the Pink Ladies, Rizzo (think “Simon Cowell” only not-British, and female) decides to create some drama by putting the “love birds” together, in order to embarrass Danny and destroy the image Sandy has of him (Women! They’ll break your heart… and eat your lunch).

We then rotate along to a scene where Howdy Doody T-bird is learning a song on the guitar (For someone who looks so clean cut he sure says “F” a lot). For added accompaniment we are introduced to the local radio station WAXX (yes, there IS “wax in grease”) and a cocky DJ named Vince Fontaine and his “jingle Belles.” We then get a glimpse at what REALLY happens at girls slumber parties (girls dancing with each other and Japanese bathrobes? Oh my!) While the sociable pink lady, Marty (who only wears a dog on hear head sometimes) sings about her Marine pen-pal, Frenchie is busy piercing Sandy’s ear and narrowly missing an artery.

Meanwhile the T-Birds have congregated at a car graveyard where Herbie the Love Bug went to die. While they sing about this new “Grease Lightning” (looks more like Crisco Thunder to me) Rizzo enters just in time for Kenickie to have to flee from the cops for stealing hubcaps (wow, talk about a rebel). There is a brief meeting between Cheerleader Barbie and Danny in which he is challenged to do something productive by Sandy (because track is productive?) This is followed by an episode of Jerry Springer at the Burger Hop with confrontations all around, closely connected to the announcement about an upcoming dance contest hosted by Vince Fontaine and Johnny Casino. The mix-match of rebels, cheerleaders, nerds, and Eugene then sing about how they will always be together (especially since this is a flashback anyway). (Tune in NEXT week as Hannah Montana learns a valuable lesson about ‘friendship’).

Act II begins with the big dance contest, “Moonlight in the Tropics” (I’m glad they went with that over “Sunshine in the Arctic”). The Hand Jive (precursor to the Macarena) includes some very interesting moves, with Hobbit T-Bird sticking his head up a girl’s dress, and Bernardo… I mean Danny, winning the contest with his partner Cha Cha (don’t foreigners always win So You Think You Can Dance?). Meanwhile Sandy is crying at home eating (and flinging) ice cream (which, quite frankly, is a better prize than a silver shoe anyway).

We then rotate to The Burger Hop, to see Frenchie, sporting her new Cotton Candy look. She has a vision of her guardian angel … Zac Efron. (Meanwhile his back-up singers ask if you wanna, wanna Fanta). Though she is a beauty-school dropout, Zac… I mean Teen Angel, tells her to go back to high school (maybe she should start a musical?)

Danny and Sandy are finally on their first official “date” at the drive-in movie (good thing he rented that clown car) and Danny says the wrong things, frustrates Sandy, and gets stabbed by the movie screen (don’t you just hate it when that happens?). Rizzo, too, is having problems of her own as she laments that there are “worse things she could do” (like be in High School Musical 2). She decides to reconcile with Kenickie, while the new Preppy Danny is pinned down by Biker Chick Barbie (a.k.a. New Sandy) who says that she wants the ring (maybe she’s a BYU co-ed). The show then ends with a reprise of “We Go Together” as the cast itself does (including a surprise reveal of the nerd Eugene becoming the new Knight Rider).

So what, then, do we learn from Grease? High school IS cheesy. It is cliquish, dramatic and disjointed at times. It is full of peer pressure, conflict, prejudice, painful moments and tissues. Sometimes you are the A student at the top of your class, and other times you’re stuck in detention. And in that sense high school is all of us. Inside all of us is a cool kid, a nerd, a jock, a rebel, a loner, a “pink lady,” and a “t bird.” For, though the faces and places may change, the turning table of life keeps going around, and just like Sandy, Danny, and Rizzo, we must constantly ask ourselves who we really are. After all, nobody is born a “rebel” and there are no “nerds” in the delivery room. We are people. We grow. We learn. We laugh. We cry. And sometimes we do them all together. For we DO ultimately “go together.” Through thick and thin, through bad hairdos, rain on prom night, drive-in movies, school hallways, football games, and burger hops, we push forward until finally we can “graduate” to something bigger and better for all of us. And sometimes during that journey, it helps to provide a laugh track.