DRAPER — Directed by Wil Greer and assistant director Savana Lowe, Draper Historic Theatre’s production of Jim Jacobs and Warren Casey’s iconic Grease musical was, all in all, a let down. Instead of the high quality community theater this local landmark has produced in the past, this performance rivaled only the work of a low-budget, ill-prepared high school drama club.
This performance was not ready for the stage. Though individual actors and actresses had adequate talent singing their solo pieces, the group numbers and harmonies were off-key and discordant. Occasional dance routines were reminiscent of the beloved American classic (hand jives and swing dancing choreographed by Heather Haycock), but the out-of-sync spinning and swaying was astonishingly distracting from what could have been an entertaining evening.
The only dance that was well-rehearsed was performed during the song, “Shakin’ at the High School Hop,” that started off the final portion of the play strong. Unfortunately, my hopes of a second act comeback were dashed as the performers could not keep up with the music and didn’t try to hide the fact that they ran out of breath before the final verse and chorus.
Set changes also took an unusually long time. Footsteps and chatter could be heard behind the set quite often if actors and actresses were not loud enough in reciting their lines. Awkward pauses absent of dialogue or music (and with no theatrical point) were regrettably abundant. Individually, these small mishaps that could be overlooked, but the sum of all parts was sadly displeasing, especially with the frequency at which these mishaps took place.
The set, designed by Heather Haycock and Craig Haycock, was very simplistic in nature and leaned heavily on the clip art-like backgrounds that came from a ceiling projector. These graphically designed backdrops felt very much like a cartoon rather than some simple shadowing or lighting the same projector may have added. Perhaps money should have been allocated to some sort of actual set design and dressing rather than only a few certain props and wardrobe items.
Makeup and costume design by Mae Hinton-Godrey also provided nothing spectacular. Aside from Rydell High cheerleading outfits, Pink Ladies sweaters for the girls, classic leather jackets for the guys, and a few wigs to give volume to the hair of certain characters, nothing else seemed very cohesive. One character in particular, Rizzo, never looked like someone from the 1950s: her hair was short and flat, and her outfits would have been more appropriate for a 2019 high school dance.
Though the overall spectacle was less than desirable, I must give praise where praise is due. Miss Lynch, played by Juliet Wendels, was able to portray the teacher as a robust and feared woman. She often stood with her legs spread apart and arms crossed, showing off her tattoos. With a 50s-style wig atop her head, she commanded the stage whenever she occupied it. Wendels showed real promise as an actress in her minor role in Grease.
Betty Rizzo, played by assistant director Lowe, showed some potential as an actress, and was willing to show emotion befitting of the character she played. Lowe’s real talent was seen when she had the opportunity to sing, specifically in her solo number, “There Are Worse Things I Could Do.” Lowe has an exceptional vocal range that is worthy of applause.
My favorite actor of the evening was Tobias Logan, who played Doody. Logan easily outshone the rest of the cast, both able to sing with a strong vocal range and unique, pleasant voice, as well as able to play his role with confidence and exuberance. Logan as Doody also invited the most laughs, adding comical and flamboyant body language to the humorous lines within the script. Throughout the play, Logan as Doody stole the stage with his obsession over the little things (such as rear-view mirror dice) and his obvious dance experience, throwing his own Latin moves into the sock hop musical.
The few positives still did not make up for the generally ill-prepared performance. Though I would prefer to omit commentary on the two main characters, I feel obliged to give feedback on the performances of Merric Godfrey and Heather Haycock, who played Danny Zuko and Sandra Dombrowski, respectively.
Godfrey played Danny, and yet Godfrey never seemed to be a confident actor or singer. His voice was great, but he rarely sang loud enough for the audience to hear. Godfrey held his body very stiff with his arms constantly at his side, making it highly unconvincing that his character was any sort of ring leader or that Danny actually had feelings for Sandy. I did learn after the fact that Godfrey was not originally cast as Danny; however that evening’s performance was simply not ready.
Sandy, played by Heather Haycock, was also unconvincing in her portrayal of her iconic American character. Heather Haycock’s conversational tone remained flat through the entire production, and she was nearly impossible to hear while singing. The only time I heard true passion in her voice was near the end of the second act when Sandy sang about her love for Danny; however, there was never enough emotion that showed even minimal romantic interest for Sandy’s summertime crush. Heather Haycock as Sandy never proved that she was “hopelessly devoted” to Danny Zuko. Perhaps Heather Haycock was spread too thin as a set designer, choreographer, and closing cast Sandy.
The script, written by Jacobs and Casey, did not help the performers. There were holes that I only filled in because I knew the plot of the film-rendition of Grease, not because this play told the full story. Near the end of the performance, Sandy called her friend, Frenchie, asking her to bring her makeup kit. Then, in the final scene, for no apparent reason, Sandy came on stage in a black leather leotard and finally showed some emotion, even throwing punches (though at this point of the production, the emotion seemed completely unwarranted). The correlation between a makeup kit and an entire makeover was loose at best.
My experience at Draper’s Historic Theatre was, on this occasion, a disappointment. Though I cannot speak for the opening night cast (who had a few different faces), this particular production of Grease is unfortunate. More rehearsal was required before this play was sufficiently prepared to advertise and execute.