Bobby Conte, Hatli Cooper, Jillian Prefach, & Zach Perrin in Grease. Photo: DDP
Book, Music, and Lyrics by Jim Jacobs and Warren Casey
Directed by Lee Buckholz
A review by Annette Skaggs
Entire contents are copyright © 2021 by Annette Skaggs. All rights reserved.
The year is 1959 and high-spirited Valedictorian Patty Simcox (Brittany Carricato Cox) and the class “nerd” Eugene Florczyk (Adam Raque) join Rydell High’s Principal Miss Lynch (Elizabeth Loos) with a stocking rolled down her leg, to address the attendees of the reunion about the great memories and friends that were made while attending their beloved Alma Mater. This is the beginning of the ageless Broadway classic Grease.
It can’t be overstated how much of an influence this show has made on our musical history, not to mention pop culture. While the movie version differs in some ways, both the stage and screen versions contain the same memorable characters and songs that we still quote from and sing over four decades later.
When the Pink Ladies and Burger Palace Boys return back to Rydell as seniors, they share their stories from summer vacation. The Pink Ladies are introduced to a new student, Sandy Dumbrowski (Harli Cooper), and invite her into their community. As the Burger Palace Boys kid around and knock each other about, their head tough Danny Zuko (Zach Perrin) regales the boys with “Summer Nights”, talking about his summer romance on the beach which funnily enough sounds similar to the story Sandy is sharing with the Pinks on the other side of the cafeteria.
The differences between the stage and screen include the placement of songs in scenes. I overheard a conversation from another table in which they said “why are they singing this song now?”. The song in reference was Those Magic Changes performed by Dick Baker as Doody, which was a highlight of the evening. Mr. Baker’s style, tonation, and exuberance were all focused and on target.
Similarly, Sara King really went forth and let her inner Marty shine in the lesser-known song Freddy, My Love, giving us all of the playfulness and sexuality that make the character of Marty an alluring woman.
The Boys were a lot of fun as they both ribbed and were jealous of Kenickie (Bobby Conte) and his jalopy but then in comes Danny who injects lots of energy into the Boys’ spirits and the audience with a rollicking and electric Greased Lightnin’, complete with great harmonies and dance moves.
As is common in school, there will always be competition and in Rydell Fight Song, Patti and Sandy have it out with each other over their admiration of Danny by seeing who can cheer better to win his affection.
As the first act closes the Pinks and Boys are hanging out at the park and learn that a big radio show will be at the school dance, so they begin to plot what they can do to make a memorable mark while there. Roger (Matthew Brennan) shares with Jan (Katelyn Webb) why he is nicknamed Moon with the funny and engaging duet Mooning which brought forth quite a few laughs from the audience. And while the rest of the Pinks seem to have accepted Sandy, Rizzo (Jillian Prefach) feels that she needs to address her naivete with Look at Me, I’m Sandra Dee. While she sounded good and certainly had all of the snark and references in place, Ms. Prefach seemed to be a little out of breath on some of the longer runs.
Act Two begins with the Big Dance. The Pinks and Boys are coupled up, except for Kenickie who is attending the dance with Cha Cha DiGregorio (Stephanie Inglese) from the nearby St. Bernadette School, and Sandy who stayed at home and shares her sorrow of such with the sad song It’s Raining on Prom Night.
Unfortunately, this portion of the performance was slow and disjointed. While Clay Smith’s Vince Fontaine was creepy (as the part is written to be), I found that his role and Blake Graham’s Johnny Casino didn’t have anywhere to go and were kind of flat. Similarly, the dance just lacked that certain something. However, as the company began Born to Hand-Jive the ensemble found their second wind and things started to pop again.
Another favorite segment of the evening was Beauty School Dropout performed by Frenchy (Rachel Elisabeth), Teen Angel (Blake Graham again), and the ensemble, plus one (I don’t want to give that away). Ms. Elisabeth’s sound was lovely as was her interaction with Teen Angel, whose performance was targeted and beguiling.
Mr. Perrin and Ms. Prefach give us two heart-tugging moments with Alone at a Drive-In Movie and There Are Worse Things I Could Do, respectively. Each performer did admirably and Ms. Prefach certainly found her character in performance and song.
Ending the evening with reprises of Sandra Dee and We Go Together I was surprised by the lack of harmonies that could have been injected to add a bit more depth to the magnificent talent that was on stage that night. The reprises were good and pleasing to the ear, but I just was looking for more of a big finish.
As to the costuming by Sharon Murray Harrah, I believe she nailed the mid-20th century look well, down to the poodle skirts and Zuko’s gym attire. Props and Scenic Designer Ron Riall kept things simple and functional for each scene, often incorporating the props to be used to create the changes in scenes. As to choreography, Heather Paige Folsom truly studied that coursework and got the ensemble in great and entertaining shape. Scott Bradley and his merry band gave us those truly 50’s sounds and grooves.
As the World is reopening to audiences, I would certainly recommend an evening at Derby Dinner Playhouse to see the antics of the students of Rydell High and to celebrate why Grease is the Word.
June 30 – August 15, 2021
Derby Dinner Playhouse
525 Marriott Drive
Clarksville, Indiana 47129
Annette Skaggs is heavily involved as an Arts Advocate here in Louisville. She is a freelance professional opera singer who has performed throughout Europe and in St. Louis, Cincinnati, Boulder, Little Rock, Peoria, Chicago, New York, and of course Louisville. Aside from her singing career, she has been a production assistant for Kentucky Opera, New York City Opera, and Northwestern University. Her knowledge and expertise have developed over the course of 25+ years of experience in the classical arts.