by Lisa Jarisch
Since its arrival on Broadway in 1972, Grease has been the Word in more than 3300 Broadway performances, had 27 productions worldwide, made its way to the big screen as a feature film, been revived on Broadway twice, and has greased and graced the boards of high school stages around the country more times than Betty Rizzo has dated and broken up with Kenickie.
Now the Class of 1959 from Rydell High has arrived at the Mac-Haydn Theater, with all the rock & roll sound, romance , and teen-age angst one could want on a hot summer night at the theatre. Director/Choreographer Sebastiani Romagnolo has put his mark on a production that does fair justice to both the original stage production and the wildly-popular 1978 feature film with John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John in the lead roles. What the production may lack in depth, it more than makes up for in enthusiasm and performance value. There is little if any of the raw, edgy language and tone that characterized original versions; while teenage pregnancy, gang violence, and pressure to conform lurk subtly on the edges of this production, they are to some degree “glossed over” in favour of bringing the flavor of 50s adolescence and music to the stage. And frankly, there’s nothing wrong with that, because what they do with this production of Grease, they do with all the expertise, quality, and theatre-goers have come to expect—and receive—from a Mac- Haydn production. As it centers around the romantic inclinations of greaser Burger Palace leader Danny Zuko and new-girl-at-school Sandy Dumbrowski, this Grease is 2 ½ hours of foot-tapping, sing-along, sit- back- and -enjoy musical theatre.
Anthony DaSilva is spending his first season at Mac-Haydn, and in the lead role of Danny Zuko, he takes to the round stage as if born to it. With just the slightest channeling of John Travolta (which may be totally unintended, as the film was released well before DaSilva came into the world), he struts into the cafeteria and leads the Burger Palace Boys through their paces, while alternately wooing and ignoring the new girl in school. He has the voice for the role–and then some !– and while disappointed that the song “Sandy” was substituted for “ Alone at a drive-in movie” there’s no denying DaSilva carries off Danny with power, panache, and presence. His voice rises above ensemble numbers, as it should as the leader of the pack. Let’s hope to see and hear more of this up and coming star as the season continues.
Emma Flynn in her second season with the Mac-Haydn company is an ideal choice for the innocent, naive Sandy, taken in hand and under the collective wing of the Pink Ladies at Rydell High on her first day of school, where she quickly discovers the love of her just past “Summer Nights” is Rydell student Danny Zuko. Flynn has a beautiful pure voice, with stage presence to match. Watching her journey from the wide-eyed ingenue who ultimately allows herself, admittedly at her own request, to be transformed to the bad-girl of Danny’s wildest hopes and dreams is a delight. “Hopelessly Devoted to you” adroitly channels Olivia Newton-John, which is almost inevitable, as this too is a number “slotted in” to the stage version from its original appearance in the film. Her final solo reprising “Look at me I’m Sandra Dee” is filled with regret, resignation, and ultimately acceptance of her new role as a pure Pink Lady, and her final duet with DaSilva of “You’re the one that I want” literally shakes the rafters of this barn-cum-theatre in the round. A side note on that particular number.In general I am not a fan of music and songs from movie versions being, sometimes, summarily inserted into stage productions, but in this production I must confess it works to great effect, and was probably the better choice than “All Choked Up” was in the original production.
Grease is an ideal production for an ensemble cast, which undoubtedly is why it is so often performed in schools, summer stock, and community theatres. Offering a variety of supporting roles for Pink Ladies and Burger Palace Boys makes it a perfect vehicle for the Mac. Much of the pleasure in this thoroughly-enjoyable production comes from the quality of performance springing from the supporting cast.numbers. Loaded with all the energy of the assembled youthful cast , the stage almost literally shakes, rattles and rolls every time a member of the ensemble gets their turn in the spotlight. Virtually every character is given a featured turn and they make the most of it, with spot-on vocals and solid, committed performances. While none of the numbers are show-stoppers, they perform them as if they are. And so several all deserve their own moments of praise….
As Doody, Kylan Ross’s rendition of “ Those Magic Changes” earns him an A+ for his spot-on vocals regaling the gang with his mastery of 4 guitar chords learned over the summer. Perhaps my favorite song in the show, I confess to adding my own A, C, F, and G chords to the melody line , no doubt to the misfortune of those sitting within earshot.
Elizabeth D’Aiuto makes the most of her turn as Marty, as she lets her slumber-party Pink Lady guests learn all about “Freddy, My love”, who showers her with gifts sent from his overseas military service. A rogue Twinkie suffers a crushing fate as the Pink Ladies dancingly celebrate the benefits of young love, but D’Aiuto carries off her number with aplomb and vocal accuracy.
Now, “Greased Lightning”, perhaps the song most associated with Grease…. While Jonah Hale’s lyrics in his portrayal of Kenickie are at times indistinct, or perhaps simply overwhelmed by a band clearly eager to rock and roll the theatre, there is no denying Hale’s enthusiasm as he presents this signature number. He leaps with abandon, sings with gusto, and overall makes us hope for a ride in his cherished automatic, systematic, fuel-injected, chrome-plated rod baby. Especially impressive is the lighting that accompanies the number—black light, strobe effect, and splashes of vibrant color punctuate this paean to every teen age boy’s dream in the 50s…THE perfect car.
As Roger and Jan, Joe Hornberger and Zoey Bright inject a lovely dose of almost over the top camp with their rendition of “Mooning”, as Roger musically and physically demonstrates the reason “the guys” have nicknamed him “Rump” Fortunately for this family-friendly show, he stops short of a “full” explanation, but not before the audience enjoys their rollicking rocking tribute to the fine art of mooning.
Maya Cuevas shines as Frenchy, the “Beauty School Dropout” nonchalantly attempting to pierce Sandy’s ears while the Pink Ladies smoke and drink at Marty’s slumber party. Her wide-eyed looks of astonishment, and subsequent reactions when her called-upon Teen Angel appears in silver lame, accompanied by a plastic cosmetic cape-draped, sun-glass -wearing Angel Chorus quartet, are worth the price of admission.
Last but by no means least of the supporting cast deserving of more than honorable mention is Angie Colonna as the hard as nails self-appointed Head of the Pink Ladies Betty Rizzo. Sashaying onto the teen scene with a hip-swiveling swagger, Colonna creates the brittle Rizzo personna necessary to play against the sweetness and light of the soon-to-be converted, or subverted, Sandy. Her mocking “Look at me I’m Sandra Dee” in Act 1 is played with nuance and a curled lip; her voice is big, bold, and in perfect keeping with the character. In Act 2, as she reluctantly, angrily, and ultimately tearfully confronts Sandy’s attempts to sympathize with her possibly pregnancy, she declares “There are worse things I could do” with a combination of pathos and defiance that brings perhaps the loudest applause of the evening for a featured performance.
Wearing his choreographer’s hat, director Romagnolo brings to Grease the signature style that brought him a Berkie Award in 2017. Lithe, sinewy, sometimes almost writhing dance movements infuse much of the dance work throughout the show, and capture in motion the burgeoning craze for rock and roll that was sweeping the nation in the 50s. Romagnolo stages the assorted ensemble numbers throughout the show with verve and punch. The close of Act 1 brings the energy-charged cast into “We go Together” with rousing hand-slapping, clapping abandon performed in perfect synchronization , and as the cast comes together in “Born to Hand Jive”, the relatively small round stage pounds and pulses with the gyrations of the dance.
Scenic designer Kevin Gleason brings home a Grade A report card for his set work and design. The black and white checkerboard floor, punctuated with squares of turquoise and pink is the perfect setting for the classic formica tables and chairs that do triple duty as cafeteria, classroom and Burger Palace diner; draped with black leather jackets and hot pink Pink Lady jackets, the set immediately transports the audience back to the 50s before the first musical note. The collection of 50’s memorabilia and ephemera adorning the walls and the stage. Vintage vinyl 45 records, pink flamingos, guitars . From the wall-mounted rotary dial corded phone to the portable transistor radios and metal coolers, every item evokes the now-classic style of the 50s. It’s just a FUN set to look at throughout the show.
Lighting by Andrew Gmoser complements and enhances the 50s “vibe” of diners, high school classrooms and cafeteria, teen age girls’ bedrooms, and the occasional outdoor setting in the park or backstreets of Chicago. There is a generous use of color throughout, and happily, the use of a strobe light is forewarned with notices at each entrance to the house , as well as used judiciously and sparingly.
Costumes by Alison Zador capture the era of poodle skirts, greaser “bad boys” with their leather jackets, tight jeans and white-shirts, and bouffant hair and prom dresses.
While perhaps not the premiere offering of the season, Grease is more than worth a look, perhaps even 2, as one of my companions noted on a full-house opening night “ I’d see this one again.” Hopefully Producing Artistic Director John Saunders would be quick to declare that “you’re the one that I want “ to make a Summer Night’s journey to Chatham for this production.
Grease with book, music and lyrics by Jim Jacobs and Warren Casey is this season’s 3 week run at the Mac-Haydn Theater in Chatham, NY, with performances from July 4 through 21. Direction and choreography by Sebastiani Romagnolo, Associate choreographer Madi Cupp-Enyard. Music direction by David Maglione, scenic design by Kevin Gleason, lighting design by Andrew Gmoser, costume design Alison Zador, hair and makeup design by Matthew Oliver, props master Joshua Gallagher. CAST: Anthony DaSilva as Danny Zuko, Emma Flynn as Sandy Dumbrowski, Kylan Ross as Doody, Elizabeth D’Aiuto as Marty, Jonah Hale as Kenickie, Joe Hornberger as Roger, Zoey Bright as Jan, Maya Cuevas as Frenchy, Angie Colonna as Betty Rizzo,, Chelesa Lynne Myers as Patty Simcox, Spencer Petro as Eugene Florczyk, Liz Gurland as Miss Lynch, Madi Cupp-Enyard as Cha-Cha DiGregorio, and Justin Forward as the Teen Angel.