The classic rock n’ roll musical Grease takes over the Winter Garden Theatre in Toronto
There are, I discovered last night at the Winter Garden Theatre for the new Toronto production of Grease, a LOT of people in Toronto who are really excited about the classic musical. Like, dress-up-like-the-characters level stoked. I wasn’t able to poll all of them after the opening on Thursday, but the general mood of the people around me was…rather mixed. Though the show’s production values were high and the cast included some very talented people, the production as a whole never really gelled for me.
Grease, when it’s done well, is a complex piece of work about belonging, identity formation, and finding one’s place in the world as much as it is about sex, fast cars, and “fast” music. The central plot revolves around good-girl Sandy and bad-boy Danny, archetypes who have had a summer romance away from the social pressures and strata of high school and re-meet each other again unexpectedly on the first day of senior year at good old Rydell High.
The thematic elements are held together, ideally, by the barely-contained wild teenage energy of the performers. This performance mostly felt more like a reunion of people who had been in Grease in high school, trotting it out once more for old times’ sake while being mindful of their bad back and tricky knees.
Partly it was my overwhelming sense that many of the actors were struggling to remember what they were supposed to do, and when, and with whom. Also, I didn’t feel much chemistry between any of the characters beyond a sort of game affection, which was… difficult, considering how much of Grease is about sex, love, and romance. I wanted director Josh Prince to send Janel Parrish (Sandy) and Dylan Wallach (Danny) to a rehearsal room and not let them out until they had strong feelings of literally any kind about each other. As it was, the driving relationship of the show just felt tractionless and limp to me.
There were some bright spots, certainly. Katie Findlay, who plays Rizzo, showed a lot of range here. She was right there between tender and tough and musically on point the whole time. I also liked Matt Magnusson as Kenicke, who had an uncontrolled, almost frantic quality about his scenes that felt authentically like a certain kind of young man.
Stephanie Pitsilades — though underused; she could have been a tremendous Frenchy — showed tremendous, absolutely brilliant comic timing as Miss Lynch and in an ensemble scene on roller skates as well. She’s too generous a performer to steal scenes, but she certainly could have — I’d give a lot for a supercut of just her bits in this show.
The sets are very nice, full of Big Stage Show touches like a car and neon and other nice things, to Paul Tate DePoo’s credit . I didn’t care for the costumes by Cory Sincennes, overall, which seemed neither authentic nor an homage but sort of an in-between that I mostly found unfortunately drab and not well conceived.
Nothing, overall, was terrible. I didn’t hate this production of Grease, I just found myself thinking most of the time that what I’d actually love would be to see Wexford Collegiate School for Arts version, under the direction of Barbara Johnston. All in all, this just didn’t make me want to sing a-wop-baba-loo-wop, or anything else.
- Grease plays at the Winter Garden Theatre (189 Yonge St) until December 10, 2017.
- Shows are at 7:30 pm Tuesday through Saturday, with 1:30 pm matinees Wednesday, Saturday and Sunday.
- Tickets range in price from $29 to $159, with many nights already sold out.
- Tickets may be purchased online.
Photo of the cast provided by the company