It is hard not to have low expectations for yet another revival of Jim Jacobs and Warren Casey's 1971 parody of/homage to late 1950s working-class youth culture and pre-Beatles American rock and roll. The show, a staple of community theaters and high school drama clubs, is packed with memorable mid-century American teen stereotypes (the bad girl, the greaser boy, the Sandra Dee wannabe) and lots of Top 40 radio knockoffs ("Summer Nights," "Greased Lightning," "We Go Together") that get stuck in your head after even lackluster productions (or a third, or fifth, or tenth viewing of the blockbuster 1978 John Travolta-Olivia Newton-John vehicle).
But the Marriott production, under the direction of Scott Weinstein, defies expectations. The casting is superb and the performances outstanding, with Jimmy Nicholas and Leryn Turlington giving Travolta and Newton-John a run for their money as Danny Zuko and Sandy Dumbrowski. The staging—on Marriott's intimate, but limited, in-the-round space—is clever and constantly eye-pleasing. Weinstein and his team heighten everything that is great about this show, most particularly the score (Jacquelyne Jones as bad-girl Rizzo belts out a version of "There are Worse Things I Could Do" to die for), and make even the weaker elements in the show (for example, the show's almost-not-there plot) strong enough to sustain interest.
Weinstein's secret weapon is his ensemble, who constantly find new ways to play familiar characters. Michelle Lauto reveals the fire in Marty, a secondary character usually overshadowed by the more drama-filled girls in her squad (Sandy, Rizzo, and Frenchy). This is a production to knock all those memories of second-rate high school theatrical revivals out of your head. v