Regional Reviews: Phoenix
Originally debuting in Chicago in 1971, Jim Jacobs and Warren Casey's show made its way to Broadway in the mid 1970s where it had a substantial run before becoming the hugely successful film in 1978. Set in 1959 at Rydell High School, the plot follows the sweet, yet square new girl in town Sandy and her summer boyfriend Danny Zuko whom she discovers also goes to Rydell. Danny is one of the cool kids, so he tries to not show his true affections toward Sandy around his friends. The show is really a series of vignettes, most capped off with a big song, that follow Danny and Sandy's attempt to get back together, along with a few smaller subplots that feature their friends.
Jacobs and Casey's score is an homage to the pop rock songs of the '50s with the hit songs from the film, including "Hopelessly Devoted to You, "You're the One That I Want," and "Sandy," replacing their lesser original score counterparts for this production. While the show opens at a reunion of the school, the title song from the film is used as a fun opening number to take us back in time to 1959 with Mickey Courtney's superb costumes augmenting this time traveling notion with the ensemble members wearing the styles of the '70s and '60s until we are introduced to the main cast in their '50s leather jackets and poodle skirts. The show tackles some very adult topics, including drinking, sex and pregnancy, though most of them are treated in a comical way. And while there are some plot holes and a slightly abrupt ending, with one of the main characters making a change that is completely out of character, the sensational score and the fun characters are why, I believe, this show is so beloved.
Director Colin Ross has assembled a talented main cast all of whom have impressive vocal abilities and good acting chops that deliver believable characters. Jack Rose and Johnna Watson are a winning twosome as Danny and Sandy. They play off each other well, with plenty of chemistry and spunk that make for a fun couple. Their acting abilities show the nuances of their roles, including Danny's softer side and the hurt that Sandy feels when she isn't treated nicely, and their voices soar in their songs.
Taylor Penn and Keegan Luther are appropriately rough, tough and gritty as the smart-talking Rizzo and Kenickie, with Penn delivering a superb portrayal of this girl we realize also feels pain underneath her hard exterior. Luther is fun and funky as the car-loving man who leads the energetic "Greased Lighting." Matthew Villarreal delivers a sweet version of "Those Magic Changes," while Celine Sanel's "Freddy, My Love" is full of charm. Grant Roberts, Paige Corbin, Nick Williams and Jessica Wastchak round out the main cast, each delivering fine performances. Also, Olivia Parker Swenson and Hayden Skaggs do well as the nerdy Patty and Eugene; Hallie Reggio is a hoot as the out of control Cha-Cha; and Savannah Thompson makes a winning Teen Angel with a lovely voice that delivers a crowd pleasing "Beauty School Drop Out." My only quibble with the cast is that, at the performance I attended, some of the ensemble members were slightly out of sync in the choreography and appeared a bit too over the top a few times, which pulled focus from the leads.
Emily Starrett's choreography is fun and infectious with varied and upbeat steps including a sensational high school dance sequence. Chase Budden and Pete Bish's set design is fairly minimal yet effective in portraying the various locales in the show, while Rick Holya's lighting provides pops of color and a clear focus throughout. Curtis Moeller's music direction delivers in spades, achieving a rich sound from the small band and the large cast.
While Grease may have a fairly simple plot it is full of energy, quirky characters, and many toe-tapping songs. With gifted leads, great costumes, and clear direction, Greasepaint's production of this popular musical makes for a very upbeat, fun and joyful time.
Grease runs through February 19th, 2017, at Greasepaint Youth Theatre at 7020 E. 2nd Street, in Scottsdale. For information and to purchase tickets call 480-949-7529 or visit www.greasepaint.org.
Director: Colin Ross