FORT WORTH FORT WORTH -- They sure can sing, but their grades must be awful.
Casa Mañana's production of the nostalgic musical Grease, which opened Saturday, takes extremely good care of its music. Almost every number in this slight tale of teen love during the Eisenhower administration is well sung, starting with those delivered by the leads -- Vince Oddo, as the rough-around-the-edges Danny Zuco, and Heather Botts, as the squeaky-clean Sandy Dumbrowski. They come through on all their numbers, including You're the One That I Want, a song introduced in the film version of this stage show, which is used as the finale for this production.
But as strong as the leads are vocally, they are equaled by the supporting players. Brad Bong, as the maladroit Doody, is fabulous on Those Magic Changes. And Maurice Johnson, as the Teen Angel, puts a slightly different stamp on that role in an impressive manner.
Among Sandy's girlfriends, Aubrey Adams, as the pom-pom shaking Patty, and Alison Hodgson, as Marty, standout.
The direction and choreography by Joel Ferrell, a former artistic director at Casa who now serves as associate artist director at Dallas Theater Center, is brisk and economical. His production numbers shine, but never overstay their welcome. And he brings the show in at a tidy 2 hours and 5 minutes.
The trade-off for these highly seasoned performances, however, is that most of the cast members look like they have been held back at Rydell High so many times that they are now all too old for grad school. This robs the production of some youthful energy it needs to create its atmosphere. The exchanges among the female characters, for example, often sound like banal, grown-up conversation -- not the chirpy chattering of teenagers.
There are also some misses in the casting that go beyond age. The wonderfully talented David Coffee is wasted in this production as the school principal, Miss Lynch. This is the third all or mostly drag role Coffee has played at Casa in the past year. Let us hope he will hang up the old lady wig after this one. Coffee does everything well -- except this.
Carrie A. Johnson is a fine singer and actress. But the tough-talking Rizzo is not her role. In addition to being years beyond the part, she does not project any hint of the coarseness that is needed to fully realize Rizzo.
So the result is a faithful, no-frills version of this beloved show that comes through strongly on all aspects of its musical trappings (the on-stage, five-piece band is great, too), but makes only a superficial nod at capturing the period feel of the piece in any real way. Still, the singing is so good that it might make you willing to overlook how many times these obvious adults must have flunked algebra.