Greased lightning strikes Tallinn

  • 2004-03-18
  • By Steve Roman
TALLINN - There's definitely something out of place about having the story of Rydell High's class of '59 transplanted onto a Tallinn stage and played out in Estonian - a bit like seeing Arnold Ruutel spinning a hula-hoop at a state dinner.

Nonetheless, that's exactly what's going to happen (the drama that is, not the hula-hoop demonstration) when, after months of preparation and heavy promotion, the worldwide staple musical "Grease" hits the stage this week at the city's Linnahall.
And it's high time. Though "Grease" is best known from the 1978 film adaptation starring the 1970s icons John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John, the hit musical by Jim Jacobs and Warren Casey has actually been bopping around international stages since 1971. More to the point, songs from the musical were translated and performed in Estonia as far back as the Soviet 1980s.
In case you've been in a coma for the last 30 years, "Grease" is the story of high schoolers Danny Zuko and Sandra Dumbrowski, who meet over summer break and fall in love. But when senior year starts, Danny, who is the leader of a leather-jacketed, greasy-haired gang called the T-Birds, spurns "nice girl" Sandy's affection, worried her goody-goody persona will tarnish his tough-guy image.
In the midst of all this teenage angst, there's of course a pajama party, a prom, a car race and, don't forget, graduation.
"I like the naivete, the humor, and the sincerity, the joy... It's everything that young people have, and only a few older people have," said Andres Dvinjaninov, the musical's artistic director, who has had the itch to get "Grease" onto the Estonian stage for 10 years now.
What came together to make the production possible now, he said, was a theater ready to organize it (the Estonian Puppet Theater) and the necessary talent.
And there's certainly no shortage of talent in this production. One of Estonia's most respected music figures, the 23-year-old jazz and pop singer Liisi Koikson, will star as San-dra. Along-side her as Danny will be 20-year-old Priit Voigemast, the actor best known as the hero of the award-winning film "Names in Marble" and co-star of the new feature film "We Will not Sleep Tonight." Around 60 other singers and dancers will join them in the musical extravaganza.
Though it's set in the "nifty-50s" U.S.A., an environment very different from modern Estonia, Dvinjaninov isn't worried about ideas getting lost in translation.
"We're doing a story about young people who could be living in America or India or Estonia," he said. "My idea is that young people everywhere will always be the same. Their first kiss or their first thoughts 'does he or she love me or not' is the same everywhere. The music or the clothes might be different, but the feeling is the same."
Maybe it's because everyone already knows and loves the music, or maybe there's a universal fascination with the world of bobby socks, greased hair and rock 'n' roll Americana, but whatever the reason, Estonians have been snapping up tickets for the show in record numbers. Over 70,000 seats have sold so far. Even with an extra two performances added to the original 13, there were a scant few seats left - and the worst ones at that - when The Baltic Times went to press.
Choreographer Juri Nael has his own explanation for the intense interest. "We live now in a very stressful time, a very busy time. What people are looking for is entertainment, and 'Grease' definitely is entertainment," he said.
For foreigners though, the real entertainment probably lies in the novelty of seeing this local adaptation of an old classic. And your only possible chance to see "Summer Nights" and "You're the One That I want" belted out in Estonian is to get ahold of any remaining seats now. Tickets, which go for between 95 kroons (6 euros) - 640 kroons, are sold at the Linnhall (Mere Pst. 20), the Puppet Theater (Lai 1) and at Piletilevi and Piletipunkt outlets. Shows run March 24 - 28, and April 1 - 5.