When it played Mexico City some years ago, it was called Vaseline. Most everywhere else, including Paris’ Théâtre Mogador, where it’s now playing in French with English surtitles, it’s still good old Grease.
The musical was nominated for seven Tony Awards back in 1972. It was for a time, with 3,388 performances, the longest-running show in Broadway history. It has had more than 123,000 productions worldwide. If, like me, you spent part or all of your teen years in the 1950s, the Warren Casey-Jim Jacobs musical comedy about the rock-infused teenagers of Rydell High in 1959 occupies a secure corner of your theatrical heart.
So for me the only question was whether this French version is good enough. The answer is that this Grease de Paris is pretty much the one that I want – as it appeared to be for just about the entire audience in the 1,600-seat theater not far from the Galeries Lafayette and Au Printemps department stores and the Gare Saint-Lazare train station in the heart of the city.
The French performers all display 1950s-style voices that suit the music precisely. The plentiful costumes (200 of them), whose color schemes are straight out of 1950s diners, perfectly convey the era and are a joy to behold. The set reflects those colors, with the aura of a jukebox and spinning vinyl. The eight-piece onstage (and appropriately costumed) orchestra sounds as if it was born to play 50s rock – with orchestrations that give it a more modern touch.
The dialogue is all in French. The surtitles are displayed on screens to the left and right high up on the stage.Tickets for the musical providing the best view of the titles are avallable online throught a company called Theatre in Paris (theatreinparis.com), which advised Mogador on the surtitles and has been providing them for several Paris stages since 2014. Those seats are in the front rows of the first balcony , or mezzanine, excellent locations for taking in the action.
Most songs are performed in French, but some are completely in English – “Grease,” “Those Magic Changes,” “You’re the One That I Want” – and others combine the two languages. The producers decided that some of the lyrics are so iconic the audiences would want to hear them in the original. It works.
Alyzée Lalande as Sandy Dumbrowski, the Sandra Dee of Grease, brings a strong voice and easy, natural acting to the role. Alexis Loizon as Danny Zuko, her boyfriend cum gang leader, is good enough. A standout among the cast of 28 in both voice and performance is Emmanelle Nzuzi as Rizzo. Dominique Trottein’s musical direction, and the musical staging and choreography by Tim van der Straeten, Martin Michel and Véronique Bandelier are all on point. The vibrant costumes are designed by Arno Bremers and Corinne Page, the era-appropriate sets by Eric van der Palen. One caveat: Extended comedy scenes between Miss Lynch, the school principal, and dorky student Eugene are a bit too broad and long, in old-fashioned French Boulevard humor style, for my American taste.
Stage Entertainment France, which owns and runs the theatre, provides what it calls “the full experience” – the lobby resembles a 1950s diner, the male ushers are in black leather jackets and the females in pink and white checked circle skirts with crinolines. Snacks at the bar included M&M’s, Snickers, Twix and Pringles potato chips.
The 1978 movie of Grease is of course much better known worldwide than the musical – the film cost $6 million to make and as of last year had grossed nearly $400 million worldwide – and the stage Grease that one sees now incorporates songs written for the movie. Which is and has been just fine, as they improve the show. (Grease opened in New York at the Eden Theater at 12thStreet and Second Avenue, far from the Great White Way, but was considered eligible for the Tonys because it was run on a Broadway contract. It didn’t garner any Tony Awards because that was the year of Follies and Two Gentlemen of Verona, which copped the best musical prize.)
The Théâtre Mogador has often presented Broadway musicals in versions from New York or London’s West End, but Grease is an original production. A year ago September, the theatre was scheduled to present The Phantom of the Opera, but it was severely damaged by a fire, and the production had to be canceled. Laurent Bentata, director general of Stage Entertainment France, said he had been seeking “a very happy musical, a feel-good musical” to reopen the theatre. “So we did our research, and Grease won. I think Grease is universal. It speaks to all generations.”
Bentata said he also has a dream – “to move the show to Broadway.” Is Broadway ready for a French Grease? Difficult to say. But it’s lots of fun in Paris.