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Review: ‘Grease’ at Wildwood Summer Theatre at The Arts Barn

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Wildwood Summer Theatre’s first 2016 summer production of Grease (with book, music and lyrics by Jim Jacobs and Warren Casey), directed by Jake Young, combines youthful enthusiasm with great performances, to create a stunning production.

Full Cast of 'Grease.' during closing number "All Chocked Up." Photo by Doga Tasdemir.

Full Cast of ‘Grease’ during closing number “All Choked Up.” Photo by Doga Tasdemir.

Grease follows several teenagers as they try to make through the politics and parties of 1950’s high school. The 1971 musical has had several revivals and a popular movie adaptation. Along with High School Musical, it is the archetypal high school story and Wildwood delivers an accurate examination of adolescence, while keeping it fun.

The show’s heart is with its characters. The story is centered on the competing friendships, lust, mockery, and jealously they develop and attempt to maintain through their final year of high school. The cast delivers excellent vocal performances and portray their character’ conflicts with heartbreaking (and heartwarming) accuracy.

Matty Montes brings ultra-cool Danny Zuko to life, portraying his struggle between his gang of greaser friends and his love, the more uptight Sandy Dumbrowski, played by Rebecca Worley, who does a great job singing “Hopelessly Devoted To You” and “Look at Me, I’m Sandra Dee.” Zuko is a hoot delivering “Greased Lightnin” and sings ‘Alone at a Drive-in Movie” with much emotion.

Emma Higgins, who never breaks from faux-sophisticated Marty’s deliberate apathy while still showing an impressive range of emotion. Steven Gondre-Lewis also portrays a deep love as Kenickie, though it’s aimed mainly at his beloved car, Greased Lightning.

Sanjana Taskar as his on-again, off-again girlfriend Betty Rizzo, provides the show’s moral conflict as she unapologetically walks through the world of “sin.” She stopped the show with the heart-wrenching “There Are Worse  Things I Could Do.”

Though the show portrays significant serious issues, it still remembers to keep the audience laughing throughout. Many of the musical numbers are delightfully tongue-in-cheek, like “Greased Lightning,” a ballad of love to a car which barely deserves gas, much less song and dance; and none of the characters take themselves too seriously.

Devin Cain’s Roger, the always confident mooning champion of Rydell High, brings an element of adolescent absurdity to his scenes with wonderful wiggles of his rump.

Shubhangi Kuchibhotla’s beautician Frenchy is similarly silly, but accomplishes it with a stubbornness one cannot help but admire, especially in “Beauty School Dropout” with her guardian angel, played by the impressive William Memmott.

The musical numbers are also wildly entertaining, with boundless energy, impressive vocals, dancing which could cut a rug to shreds, and excellent music from a terrific live band directed by Sam Weich.

Sarah Lawless’ choreography fits the 50s perfectly, with everything from authentic hand-jiving to mooning. The dance moves which these performers are able to pull off are truly remarkable, especially from Danielle Burman who lives up to her character’s nickname of “Cha-Cha.” The songs run the full gamut of moods, from the sarcastic “Alma Mater (Parody)” to the optimistic “We Go Together,” to the depressed “Alone at a Drive-in Movie,” but all the moods are expressed through impressive song and dance.

'Shakin' at the High School Hop': From Left to Right: Alex Palmer (Sonny), Sanjana Taskar (Rizzo), SHUBHANGI KUCHIBHOTLA (Frenchy), and Marry Montes (Danny Zuko). Photo by Doga Tasdemir.

‘Shakin’ at the High School Hop’: From Left to Right: Alex Palmer (Sonny), Sanjana Taskar (Rizzo), Shubhangi Kuchibhotla (Frenchy), and Marry Montes (Danny Zuko). Photo by Doga Tasdemir.

The technical details of the show provide a solid foundation. The set, designed by Katie Miller, is sparse but manages to portray several different locations through the use of only a few prop pieces swapped out between scenes. This is aided by the sound design of Roma Venkateswaran, which helps the audience imagine what they cannot see, and the fine lighting design by Cameron Walkup. The colorful costumes, coordinated by Rose Weich and Sasha Bartol, and make-up, designed by Emily Hall, ground it firmly in the ’50’s – that era of greased hair and leather jackets.

Wildwood Summer Theatre’s Grease is great way to spend your summer nights. Don’t miss it!

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Grease plays through July 23, 2016 at Wildwood Summer Theatre and Arts on the Green performing at The Gaithersburg Arts Barn – 311 Kent Square Road, in Gaithersburg, MD. For tickets, call the box office at (301) 258-6394, buy them at the door, or purchase them online.

Wildwood’s second 2016 production Nine begins on August 5, 2016. For tickets, call the box office at (301) 258-6394, buy them at the door, or purchase them online.

RATING: FIVE-STARS-82x1550.gif

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