Opening on Broadway in 1971, with music, lyrics, and book by Jim Jacobs and Warren Casey, Grease became one of the most successful musicals of its time with an original run of 3,388 performances and two subsequent revivals. Set in 1959, the show was initially known for its more scandalous storytelling of the end of the “fabulous fifties” and entry into the 1960’s or “decade of discontent.” This was a time of chaos and growing turmoil seen through the eyes of ten working class teenagers. More recent productions have toned down this take and it has now become a more family-friendly romp idealizing the end of the sock-hop era. Rockville Musical Theatre and Director Lee Michele Rosenthal present a show much closer to other modern versions in its take on the iconic musical.
Set Designer Mark Hamberger uses rotating flats to smoothly change the scenes. This was a simple, yet effective design plan that allowed the show to flow seamlessly from the steps of Rydell high to Sandra’s bedroom and throughout the show. The added touch of a few large pieces like picnic tables and the 50’s style convertible for “Grease Lightning” and the drive-in scene were sufficient to provide the setting needed. Also simple and effective were the costumes designed by Director Lee Michele Rosenthal and Ginger Ager, I especially enjoyed the clothing adorned by the female ensemble in the song “Beauty School Dropout” the ladies were dressed in all white with rollers in their hair, customary for this number.
Excellent performances were predominant in the supporting cast. As the Pink Ladies we have Rizzo (Shaina Freeman), Marty (Leah Schwartz), Jan (Dana Robinson), and Frenchie (Sarah Randles). Musical Director/Conductor/Keyboard Marci Shegogue was joined by Tenor Saxophonists Howard McCullers and and Charlie Condon;bassist Tom Lipe and guitarists Willie Gammel, drummer Rodrigo Posada and Eric Oganesoff, who played the popular score well.
The Burger Shop Boys (later versions they were known as the T-Birds) were made up of Kenickie (Gabriel T. Potter), Doody (Kevin Belanger), Roger (Eric Yeh), and Sonny (Drew Brody). Each of these cast members had fun moments to watch, and I particularly enjoyed the performances of Dana Robinson and Eric Yeh as Jan and Roger in their duet, “Mooning.” Both Robinson and Yeh were amusingly innocent, playing off each other with ease. “Grease Lightning,” led by Potter as Kenickie and the famed “Summer Nights” also had great energy, but unfortunately sound issues prevailed and it was hard to clearly hear much of the singing, even from the third row. Kevin Balenger as Doody also had a stand out solo in “Those Magic Changes.” He was delightfully awkward and had a lovely tenor voice.
Other standout performances were from Todd Mazzie as Vince Fontaine, one of my favorite characters, and Teen Angel Chad Wheeler. I must mention that I did miss the sound effects that usually accompany Vince Fontaine’s wacky radio personality, they were in his first bit (on tape), but the sound engineer seemed to be out of sync with the actor and the effects were dropped going forward. In all, Mazzie still gave a more than worthy performance as the swarthy lothario. I have to say Wheeler as the Teen Angel was the showstopper of the evening. His performance in the song “Beauty School Dropout” was absolutely mesmerizing.
In the leading roles of Sandy Dumbrowski and Danny Zuko we have the handsome pair of Leslie Walbert and Garrett Matthews. Each sang beautifully throughout the show. Walbert stood out with her beautiful soprano voice in “Raining on Prom Night” and Matthews had equally talented singing chops in “Alone at a Drive-in Movie.” Although they sang well the spark and chemistry wasn’t quite there yet and as the run continues I am confident that will become stronger.
Other notable performances came from the over-the-top nerd Eugene played by Rob Milanich, the uber enthusiastic cheerleader Patty Simcox played by Valerie Hubert and the cantankerous Miss. Lynch played by Ruth Orland. In particular, Hubert had some scene-steeling moments, especially paired with Sandy as they practiced a cheer routine, but the squeaky effect she made with her voice, while very funny at times, also made it hard to understand her.
Grease will be showing for two more weekends in Rockville. It is a great show for families and you will surely have a fun time. Catch it if you can!
Running Time: Approximately 2 hours and 15 minutes, with a 15 minute intermission.
Grease plays through November 16, 2014 at Rockville Musical Theatre performing at the F. Scott Fitzgerald Theatre-603 Edmonston Drive, in Rockville, MD. For tickets, call (240) 314-8690, or purchase them online.