ACT's 'Grease' showcases solid talent, memorable performances
For a stage show that first debuted in 1972, was subsequently revised into a mega-hit motion picture in 1978, and was retooled for the stage to include the hit movie songs, the perennial favorite "Grease" is by any standard one of today's most popular musicals.
It's hard to believe that we were only a dozen years past the end of the "Nifty Fifties" when the show first debuted and that the music that theater-goers will recognize instantly is now 35 years old.
Mitchell Area Community Theatre has revived the show and first-weekend attendance (nearly sold out) proves that fans love "Grease." This production features particularly strong female actors, a live band and one of the best props I've ever seen in an ACT show.
The story is one of teenage angst. Greaser Danny Zuko (Jeff Holstein) meets good girl Sandy Dumbrowski (Jenna Callies) over the summer. When Sandy shows up as the new girl at Rydell High, she has a hard time fitting in with the Pink Ladies, led by Rizzo (Emily Grode). The black-leather-jacketed Thunderbirds are hot for Sandy, but not for the idea of their leader going soft over any girl. By the end of the second act, Sandy becomes the good girl gone bad to the immense pleasure of the rest of the Rydell kids.
Director Jessica Phillips has found some solid talent in Callies and Holstein as Sandy and Danny; however, there are also some standout performances among supporting cast members. Grode not only sings beautifully in "There are Worse Things I Could Do" and the iconic "Look At Me, I'm Sandra Dee," she depicts an edgy, tough girl, a real gum-cracking chick, filled with wit and sarcasm and a wonderful Bronx accent.
Newcomer Tyler Sarringar is memorable as T-Bird Roger and humorously performs "Mooning." Rebecca Kroger's Frenchy is a delight, as are the other Pink Ladies, Marty (Kira Stammer) and Jan (Ahlea Callies). Devin Carey lights up the high school dance as radio host Vince Fontaine. He and the dancers serenade Frenchy in "Beauty School Dropout," a hilarious teen-angel spoof.
The set is one we have seen before in past ACT productions with the band elevated on the stage. Pianist Vicky Schaefer leads the group including drums and saxophone. There were some audio problems the night I attended, which muddied some of the dialogue, but overall the accompaniment worked. My favorite prop is an actual car brought onto the stage for the ensemble number "Greased Lightning" and Danny's "Alone at the Drive-In Movie" solo.
The choreography was well done and the big dance numbers really deliver, especially the closing "We Go Together." The costumes were a bit uneven, with some spot-on depictions of 1959 teenagers, but a few misses for some of the girls.
"Grease" the movie debuted at the end of a long run of popular Fifties-themed entertainment starting with "American Graffiti" and continuing through "Happy Days." I fear we have reached the point where we feel nostalgia for the nostalgia as those long-ago perceived-innocent days are now more than 50 years in the past. Be that as it may, "Grease" is still the word and certainly will be on stage for years to come.
The show by ACT has performances at 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday and at 2 p.m. Sunday at the Pepsi-Cola Theatre. Tickets are on sale at the theater; more information is available at 996-9137 or www.mitchellact.org.