Popular musical arrives on the Winter Garden Theatre stage in Toronto
Grease: the Musical is a classic, and it’s got that classic vibe about teenage friendship and romance in the 50s. Returning for another run after playing in Toronto in early 2018, the production currently playing at the Winter Garden Theatre is, as the opening song says, the time, the place, and the motion to watch an entertaining rendition of this popular musical.
Grease: the Musical is always going to be one of those fun, bouncy, sing-a-long musicals. It’s got catchy songs, some touching moments, and some explosive laughs. It’s also not aged particularly well, so there are definitely some moments that don’t translate well to the present. Particularly the songs Summer Nights and You’re the One That I Want. This version didn’t deal with the problems at all during Summer Nights — the famous “did she put up a fight” line –they really just went all in, with lots of male teenage posturing during the T. Birds section of the song. However, I felt they handled the “girl changes herself for the guy, and the guy gets to stay the same” iconic final scene incredibly well.
The performers were all top notch; the singing and dancing were a joy to listen to and watch, which I think is most important part of a musical like this.
Matthew Helfer’s performance as Danny was perfectly balanced between being too cool and too focused on Sandy. In particular, I loved the scenes where everyone is having a good time, and Helfer alternates between being involved with his friends and feeling isolated because he’s kind of alone. During Those Magic Changes, the screen work where Danny is just seeing nothing but Sandy was a special moment for me. That feeling carried over to We Go Together, where he switches from having fun with his friends to having the cold dread of realization cross his face as he realizes he’s the only one not paired off.
Janelle Parish’s Sandy was fine. She’s got a phenomenal singing voice, but I never felt really drawn to what she was doing. Everything that happened with her felt a little rushed. Her relationship with Rizzo — played by Alicia Barban — and Danny didn’t come across well for me. That can also be just a me-thing, since I tend to find the ingenue roles to be a bit flat, because they’re often written that way, and it takes a lot to make them pop out and be exciting, particularly in an ensemble play like Grease: the Musical.
The strongest part of an ensemble cast is usually in the “secondary” characters. This production had that strength in spades. I loved what everyone was bringing to their scenes and song. Emma Rudy’s Marty was that one friend you had in high school, trying so hard to be older than they were. The big loud growl she belts out in Freddy, My Love made me laugh out loud.
Michelle Bouey’s Frenchy was wonderfully caring and oblivious the whole show. Her reactions during Beauty School Dropout were this mixture of joy over having her wish of a guardian angel come true and contrition about the fact that she had a bad plan. With Michael De Rose providing the caring and comedic Teen Angel role, it made this song one of my most favourites of the night.
Other memorable numbers for me were Matthew Fletcher as Doody singing These Magic Changes. Fletcher was the gentle giant of the T. Birds who went from croaking out some notes to beautiful songbird. Aisha Jarvis had two touching moments for me, the first when was she got up to sing It’s Raining on Prom Night. It was such a heartwarming number, even if the subject is kind of sad. The second was an unexpected delight as Jarvis teamed up with Benjamin Camenzuli to sing Mooning. I didn’t expect to enjoy it, but the two of them created a lovely little awkward scene at the burger joint.
The burger joint was perhaps the best set out of all the retro looking sets. Everything felt that it was something out of the 50s, from the classrooms to the big car in Greased Lightning. For me the burger joint was perfect, because it gave everyone the space they needed to have their little scenes, which drew my attention and kept the scenes fresh and alive.
You can tell the cast is having a good time performing Grease: the Musical. They also have a fantastic line up of guest Teen Angels. Michelle Williams is going to perform the part from June 19 – 23, which, if you’re a fan of the guests, is another reason to go see the show. I enjoyed it, and for people who love Grease it’s going to be a worthwhile show to see because it is going to be the one that you want.
- Grease: the Musical is playing at the Winter Garden Theatre (189 Yonge St) until July 8, 2018.
- Shows run Monday through Saturday at 7:30 pm with matinees on Saturday, Sunday, and Wednesday at 1:30 pm.
- Tickets range between $29 and $149.
- Tickets can be purchased online, or at the Winter Garden Theatre Centre box office (Tuesday to Saturday, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m., or until show time on performance days; closed Sunday and Monday).
Photo of Michael De Rose and Michell Bouey with the Ensemble cast by Dhalia Katz