Let's pretend for a moment that Grease, receiving a main-stage airing-out at Walnut Street Theatre, isn't about slut-shaming and prude-shaming or the days when bullies were the cool kids. We can celebrate an era when we had the freedom to mock "Polacks," "Japs," and "pansies" at will, but didn't have to acknowledge African Americans because they were still invisible. We might even be OK with all that if director Bruce Lumpkin allowed this 1971 musical to take its original form: a hand jive at America's best-beloved 1950s myths presented by a bunch of working-class teenage scrappers all grappling for the bottom rungs of the same (gender-specific) ladders.
Instead, we're presented with Cliff Simon's set, featuring enormous flats painted with Liz Taylor's face - all half-opened eyes, hair, and parted lips - looming large on the left, James Dean's famously pouting visage on the right, "Rydell" - the kids' high school - on scaffolding between them like a local version of the Hollywood sign. The Walnut's production is an homage, a blend of songs from Grease's Broadway debut and the 1978 film, featuring John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John (to which, for the record, I'm still hopelessly devoted), and as such, rings untrue nearly throughout, albeit with some great dance numbers.