greaseUnless you just dropped on to Earth from another planet, it would be difficult to believe you are not familiar with Grease from the many theatrical productions or the 1978 film. But just in case, here is the skinny on the show, this production and a couple of insights you perhaps may not know about this musical.

Set in 1959 at fictional Rydell High School, Grease takes its name from a Chicago working-class youth subculture known as greasers. Sandy Dumbrowski, the new girl in town, and Danny Zuko, the school’s coolest greaser, have a secret summertime romance – but when they get back to school, Danny is aloof, and predominantly concerned with maintaining his tough-guy reputation. In the end, with the help of the gum-snapping, hip-shaking, local girl gang the Pink Ladies, Sandy figures out how to regain his attention.

When it was first presented writers Warren Casey and Jim Adler had created a gritty, aggressive and profane look at high school life. They conceived the show in part as a critique of the ‘50s movies with their unrealistic sanitized view of teenagers. Over the years the musical’s aggressiveness has been toned down.  Yet, Grease still manages to explore the complexities of peer pressure, politics, personal values, and love in an enjoyable and entertaining musical. The original songs, including Summer Nights, Greased Lightnin’, Look at Me, I’m Sandra Dee, and Born to Hand Jive have become enduring classics of modern musical theatre.

Director Mallory Mousseau Grantz has gathered a talented cast with rich voices to play the leads and featured roles. Penn State University Park junior Alex Conte captures the essence of Danny Zuko; the stance, the hair comb and the hidden insecurity that lies inside “the leader of the pack.”  Xander, as he likes to be called, has two substantial numbers in Summer Nights and Alone at a Drive-In Movie.

The meaty roles in Grease are the women. The Pink Ladies each have their own story, different enough, interesting enough, that they form the core of the musical and propel it forward. The boys are almost “incidental music” to this story of young women maturing and their quest for happiness, but they fill the stage with macho teenage angst.

Regan Hochman as Sandy has the range to effectively capture the brooding “good girl” ingenue who Danny falls in love with only, to grow out of stereotype to become a modern woman. Point Park rising senior Mairead Roddy turns in a compelling performance as Rizzo, the cynical leader of the Pink Ladies and a strong alpha female. Rizzo lives life on her own terms, and Roddy’s portrayal of her has just enough edge to make you believe it. Roddy is also the show’s best dancer.

As Frenchy, Kaylyn Farneth provides comic relief as the Beauty School Dropout while befriending Sandy, proving once again that brilliance and kindness are often mutually exclusive traits.  Theresa Hall plays a no-nonsense, “tough broad” Marty. She is perfect in this role, and her stature and stage presence keep her talent from getting lost with this large cast. Emma Crist who plays Patty steals the show every time she is on-stage as the high-achieving cheerleader who also befriends Sandy early in the play. It is as if she is channeling the joy, curiosity, and energy of a year-old puppy in her portrayal of Patty, and the audience loves her for it.

Let me not discount Matthew Hommell and his stage presence in the role of Kenickie, the hard-nosed, tough guy. Hommell draws you into his character and his tumultuous relationship with Rizzo brings focus to the complicated relationship teenagers have with sex, love and the “good girl” myth. The feminist blog Mary Sue proposes that “Grease is, among other things, a critique of 1950s sexism, not an embodiment of it. There’s a big difference between depicting something, and endorsing it, and the sexism in Grease was necessary to depict to see what these teens are struggling against.”

Despite the well-known songs in Grease, a compelling story, interesting characters, and talented actors, this production at Apple Hill Playhouse seemed a little flat. There is a disconnect between the characters. I didn’t feel the yearning, the lust, between Sandy and Danny. The Pink Ladies and the Burger Palace boys are high school cliques in the kindest sense of the word, yet the ensemble did not create that feeling of mutual affection within the groups. There is a lack of cohesiveness in Mousseau Grantz direction that doesn’t allow the production to rise to the next level of energy. Some of that may be due to the tepid nature of Cindy Baltzer’s musical direction which could use brass section to punch up the songs and a more aggressive upbeat tempo for the dance numbers. Apple Hill’s stage is compact, the cast is large, and there are many locales where the actions occur. Rich Caugherty Set Design seems to constrict obstructions for the Choreographer Rori Aiello Mull’s dance numbers rather than allowing them to soar.

Grease at the Apple Hill Playhouse is an excellent opportunity to see some of our areas very talented community theatre actors and hear some now classic yet modern show tunes.

Remaining performances are at 7:30 pm on  19th, 20th, and 21st. For tickets e-mail boxoffice@applehillplayhouse.org or call 724-468-5050.

Categories: Archived Reviews

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