The musical you know and (be honest now) even love is almost here — only gayer.
The performance of the new-and-improved “Grease” will wow you into whistling show-stopping songbook standards like “You’re the One That I Want” and “Summer Nights,” but this time the show is performed with an all-male cast by the Gay Men’s Chorus of Washington. Gay subtext, in other words, here we come!
It runs only this weekend, March 19-21, Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m. and Sunday at 3 p.m., at Lisner Auditorium.
It’s the iconic 1978 musical starring the young John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John in the classic tale of good girl meets bad boy — it’s just that all parts are now played, and to the hilt, by males.
This time, Danny Zuko — the way-too-cool-for-school greaser — is played by boyishly handsome Cory Claussen, light on his feet in the dance numbers and sweetly swaggering through the songs, easily impersonating a high school “hunk a hunk of burning love,” while in real life serving on the staff of the Senate Agriculture Committee. During Sunday’s rehearsal, Cory was wearing an anti-Prop 8 T-shirt emblazoned with the slogan “Legalize Gay.”
And uptight “good girl” Sandy Ollson is played adorably by a somewhat credibly virginal but total heartthrob Steve Sarno, who in his day job is a staff attorney for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
When they embrace, the sexual chemistry crackles with double-entendre desire, and it’s their unlikely courtship — at the beginning of their senior year at Rydell High, following a whirlwind summer romance that Danny hopes to set aside while Sandy meanwhile still pines for more — that triggers the showdown between the sexes (so to speak) and tweaks all the twists and turns until (sigh) the inevitable happy ending.
In the capable hands of director John Moran, every possible double-entendre is milked for its fullest homoerotic meaning and nostalgic doo-wop high-jinks and songs that flow into a stage-full of chorus boys whose moves will turn Lisner into a sizzling salute to same-sex sensuality, such as during the “mooning” song, when Roger and Jan also channel the love that dares not speak its name in a song that ends “there’s a moon out tonight!”
And the jokes abound. So when bad-girl Frenchy gives an innocent explanation of how she got her nickname, one of the bad boys calls out “sure you did!” And other one-liners dot the script, like when one of the Rydell students talks about meatless Fridays in the lunchroom, exclaiming, “I can eat everything, that’s one of the great things about being Lutheran.” Right now, as an ex-Lutheran, I’m still trying to recall exactly what the other ones were.
So we hear Danny and Sandy croon their sweet duet about “summer days drifting away to night,” while the boys are ager to coax details from Danny — “tell more more, tell me more, did you get very far?” — while Danny tries to appear studly, declaring “summer fling don’t mean a thing” to maintain his cool image while secretly wanting to rekindle his romance with Sandy, who is meanwhile put off by his testosterone-fueled appearance of playing the field.
So the story itself doesn’t change at all, and it’s wall-to-wall eye candy in a tasty sampler of bon bons. Frenchy is still the sexpot whose heart of gold glitters with at least a couple of karats worth of cheap come-hither.
Act two storms on stage with an ensemble dancing “shake it at the high school rock” and then Sandy sings “it’s raining on prom night, it’s raining tears from my eyes.” But the likely show-stopper will come when longtime GMCW audience favorite Peter Fox will appear as Teen Angel, that “teenage n’er do well,” while the chorus boys dance around him like sugar plum fairies amped to the camp.
Most of the guys in the cast grew their hair long so they could grease it back. But all you have to do is find a date and then get your nostalgia on. Watch the hula hoops whirl. Watch the dancers doo wop — yes, there’s an Italian back-story with these lovable grease-balls.
In other words, this show makes you an offer you can’t refuse, so just plan on having “fun fun fun” in these not so innocent days when carefree “summer love” seems a million miles away. Skip this one and kick yourself when your friends tell you what you’ve missed.