‘Grease’ at Toby’s Dinner Theatre of Baltimore by Amanda Gunther


You’ll fall head over heels into summer loving as Toby’s Dinner Theatre of Baltimore presents the hit musical classic Grease, and I promise you’ll have a blast! The epic love story of the 50s comes rolling onto the stage this summer with all your favorite songs. Directed by Tina Marie DeSimone with musical direction by Douglas Lawler, the audience takes a field trip back to their senior year at old Rydell, where the ladies are pink, the boys are crazy, and the big hand-jive dance contest is the biggest thing to hit town since Johnny Casino.

Kenickie (on the car center- Peter N. Crews) and the Burger Palace Boys. Photo by Kirstine Christiansen.

The costumes are beyond groovy. Costume Designers Samn Huffer and Janine Sunday team up to craft that 1950’s all-American look right before your eyes. We get a plethora of brightly colored dresses for the big high school dance, some really straight-laced cheerleading uniforms for Patty Simcox and Sandy, and of course the telltale pink satin jackets for The Pink Ladies. Huffer and Sunday take us to the era of rock ‘n’ roll, fun-loving, and good times with their simple but classy designs, making this show one step closer to being total greased lightning.

Director Tina Marie DeSimone also serves as the show’s choreographer. And the dances packed into this show are nothing short of a jumpin’ jamboree that has the audience clappin’, slappin’, and hand jivin’ along from their seats. The Burger Palace Boys really use their bodies to pack the sex appeal of the car into the song “Greased Lightning” and this is a fantastic showcase of some nifty acrobatics, using the car as a launch pad and stage step. The two big dance numbers that really captured my attention are “We Go Together” and “Born To Hand-Jive.”

During the act I finale of “We Go Together” we see a flawless execution of synchronized movements from the whole gang, lead by Danny and Rizzo, as they bounce, jump, step, and sing their way through this huge number. A similar choreography is repeated with twice as much energy from the whole cast during “We Go Together” at the finale of the show. And “Born To Hand-Jive” shows off DeSimone’s array of moves throughout all of her dancers, each of the featured couples getting to put their own unique spin on the move. Keep your eye on Jan (Celia Blitzer) and Roger (Britt Lewis) in this number and see if you recognize the dance move.

DeSimone pays true homage to the acting stars of the movie that inspired the film that lead to this sensational musical in her casting choices for a few of the main roles, allowing older actors to play the parts of the young teenage seniors which creates that fun element of subtle parody achieved in the film version. This particular show ends up as a showcase of individual characters who each have riotous quirks and fun-loving characteristics that make them all the more enjoyable.

We see these individual character portraits painted up most clearly in the supporting cast. Eugene Florczyk (Mikey Caferelli) is the epitome of the school nerd who is absolutely terrified in the presence of the big greaser boys. Caferelli is shaking in his boots so bad at times that he almost looks blurry on stage. Jan (Celia Blitzer) is another example of a fine-tuned erratic character. Caferelli and Blitzer bring an energetic brand of fun to these stock characters that keep them live and refreshing.

Blitzer’s character is a die-hard foodie, and her big eyes and crazy smile light up the whole stage every time food is mentioned or present. And when she sings the duet “Mooning” with Roger (Britt Lewis) their comic styling of swinging swaying and swooning together take the cake and make this number a hysterical but romantic little moment for everyone to enjoy.

The student who really gets to live up his glory days, aside from the main two couples, is Doody (Chris Rudy). The man gets a guitar and actually plays it, which is always a pleasant treat on stage, and then sings his heart out in “Those Magic Changes” enchanting all the girls with his crooner-like song. Rudy is as goofy when he’s with the boys as he is charming when singing to the girls, a great duality from this talented actor.

Even the adults get to have some fun in this number. The lively Johnny Casino (Scean Flowers) really spices up the high-school dance when he shows up to wail “Born To Hand-Jive” and throws in his own special mix of moves that keeps the stage hoppin’ and happenin.’ David Bosley-Reynolds as the ever loveable Vince Fontaine pops in and out of record holes on the wall to add a little variety to the show as well. Both Flowers and Reynolds have a gift for entertaining in their own unique style, and both manage to add a little fun to this show for anyone over “seventeen.”

(l to r) "Rump" (Britt Lewis), Jan (Celia Blitzer), Marty (Shayla Simmons), Sonny LaTierri (Matthew Greenfield), Danny Zuko (Tim Rogan), Rizzo (Tina Marie DeSimone), Doody (Chris Rudy), Frenchy (Emily Lentz), and Kenickie (Peter N. Crews). Photo by Kirstine Christiansen.

And keep your eye out for Miss Lynch (Kelli Blackwell) who is the epitome of school authority at Rydell High. Blackwell doubles up ‘Teen Angel’ and presents a unique twist to the famous number “Beauty School Dropout,” just showing the audience that it’s not always the “kids” that get to have all the fun.

The Megastars of the show are everybody’s favorite couples. The on-again off-again Sandra D (Lara Zinn) and her split personality boy-toy Danny Zuko (Tim Rogan). Zinn and Rogan are everything you expect the roller coaster couple to be. In this love-hate-love relationship Zinn and Rogan bounce chemistry off one another like dodge balls in gym class. Rogan has a gorgeous voice, almost too operatic and classically trained for the rough sounding Zuko character, but he reins it in during “Alone At A Drive-In Movie” and when he bursts and belts his love to Sandy during “You’re The One That I Want.”

Zinn is a peppier version of Sandy with a little more confidence than you might expect from the new girl in town. But she holds her own and has a deeply emotional and talented voice, displayed best when singing “Hopelessly Devoted To You.” We see more of her eager and chipper side during “Summer Nights,” another perfect duet between her and Rogan.

And then we have the incomparable Betty Rizzo (Tina Marie DeSimone) and her might-be boyfriend Kineckie (Peter N. Crews). The pair has the perfect volatile relationship, all hot hugs and passion one moment and cold-shouldered brawls the next. Crews is the rabble-rousing leader of the burger boys and his rough gruff voice combined with his aged look makes him the perfect candidate for the role. Everyone just assumes Kineckie failed a few grades and Crews lives up to the potential of that character point. He hops on the car and holds his own during “Greased Lightning” and makes a stunning slide entrance into every scene.

DeSimone as the coarse cut Rizzo adds deeper levels of emotion to the character than should be possible. When she sings “There Are Worse Things I Could Do” she manages to transform the song into a double-edged sword; a ballad about her own self worth and at the same time a stab at Sandy for all the inadvertent teasing she’s done to Danny and the others. It is a stunning interpretation and the most emotionally charged song of the show. DeSimone is a brat with sophistication in her mockery of Sandy during “Look At Me, I’m Sandra Dee” and she has Rizzo’s patented ‘hey, hey, hey!’ and her laugh refined to an impeccable science.

The cast is full of talent. Their hearts are full of glee and energy that really shakes things up and brings back the 50s in the best way possible. It’s hard to take a classic like Grease that has been done by everyone everywhere and still make it incredible and new and exciting, and the cast of Toby’s Baltimore manages to achieve this with a flawless sensationalism.

Running Time: Two hours and 15 minutes with one intermission.

Sandy (Lara Zinn) and Danny (Tim Rogan). Photo by Kirstine Christiansen.

Grease plays through September 9, 2012 at Toby’s Dinner Theatre of Baltimore -in the Best Western Travel Plaza – 5625 O’Donnell Street, in Baltimore, MD. For tickets, call the box office at (410) 649-1660, or purchase them online.

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