NEW YORK — GREASE! At the Eugene O'Neill Theatre.
THE 1993-1994 Broadway season sputters toward the finish line with its last two offerings; both the work of collaborators Tommy Tune and Jeff Calhoun. As befitting the sorry state of creativity in Broadway musical theater, one production is a revival and the other a sequel.
``Grease!'' the revival, has just landed on Broadway after an extensive national tour. Tune and director-choreographer Calhoun have come up with a high-concept show, turning ``Grease,'' which is already a cartoon, into even more of one.
John Arnone's heavily stylized set is all Day-Glo colors and pop-up settings, with much business involving people poking their faces through flats and jumping out of walls. It's a garish, brightly hued look that resembles something like a John Waters satirical version of the 1950s rather than any kind of greaser reality. Things are not helped by the broad performances and the hyped-up direction, which lose the humanity of the characters.
The whole production, complete with an audience participation sock-hop before the curtain, a radio announcer playing '50s classics, and a sunken stage within the stage, has a forced air of fun. Certainly, it's the musical numbers that make the show work, and they still hold up. The book, music, and lyrics by Jim Jacobs and Warren Casey is highly tuneful and underrated.
Rosie O'Donnell, playing Rizzo, barely makes an impression, which is surprising considering her exuberantly comic persona. Ricky Paull Goldin and Susan Wood look good and sing well as Danny and Sandy, but, hard as it may be to imagine, they make us long for the depths that John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John brought to the characters in the film version. Sam Harris delivers a rousing rendition of ``Those Magic Changes.'' Marcia Lewis scores big laughs, especially with her dancing, as the school principal.
Ultimately, the nonstop energy level of the production is exhausting rather than exhilarating.
THE BEST LITTLE WHOREHOUSE GOES PUBLIC At the Lunt-Fontaine Theatre.
WHAT is most surprising about Tommy Tune's ``The Best Little Whorehouse Goes Public,'' is that he deemed it necessary to make the sequel to a show people barely remember. Not that this show bears much relation to the original; only one principal character, Miss Mona, is a holdover. It probably was the concept that piqued his interest. The show, which Tune co-directed with Peter Masterson and co-choreographed with Calhoun, is based on an actual incident in which the Internal Revenue Service took over a house of prostitution in Nevada (where it is still legal), in order to help it raise back taxes.
The idea is certainly promising, but the book by Larry L. King and Masterson barely bothers to exploit it. There was a cleverness about the first ``Whorehouse'' that is sadly missing here; everything seems put together in a cynical and slapdash fashion, with a strong emphasis on glitz, spectacle, neon, and women in various states of undress.
Tune is legendary for whipping less-than-brilliant shows into wonderful shape, but here he just seems tired. Even the choreography is sadly lackluster, with the exception of one group dance. Carol Hall's music, which was so sprightly in the original, is less so here.
An obnoxious comedian, played by real-life comic Jim David, acts as a sort of narrator, although he would barely make it at your local comedy club. The leads are blandly played by Dee Hoty and Scott Holmes.
What is most noticeable about the production - in fact, what is blinding about it - are the lavish sets (John Arnone), costumes (Bob Mackie), and lighting (Jules Fisher and Peggy Eisenhauer). Recreating Las Vegas in all its garish excess, this show has more neon and sheer wattage than anything else on Broadway.