Review: ‘Grease’ at the John W. Engeman Theater

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Grab your leather jacket and go back in time to Rydell High, 1959 in Grease. The John W. Engeman Theater at Northport has opened its 2017-2018 season with this much loved classic, and it’s fabulous. With book, music and lyrics by Jim Jacobs and Warren Casey, this production is directed by Paul Stancato.

Liana Hunt and Sam Wolfe in Grease. Photo by Michael DeCristofaro.

The well-known storyline from the 1978 movie remains basically in place, with a few grittier tweaks reminiscent of its raunchier 1971 origins. Danny (Sam Wolf) and Sandy (Liana Hunt) meet at school after some fun “Summer Nights”, sung with great energy and flawless harmony from the cast. As they struggle to find a balance between their very different lives, and navigate friendships and romance with their peers, the audience rides along with the fun and the fantastic music. The most noticeable difference, besides song order, is Sandy’s substantially feistier personality, which is logical considering her eventual transformation.

This cast was incredible. Every character was impeccable, every song stupendous. Meticulous attention to every detail is apparent in each scene, from the perfectly executed favorites such as “You’re the One That I Want”, down to the subtle aspects of Miss Lynch (Tracy Bidleman) sneaking a drink during the dance. Sam Wolf and Liana Hunt play off one another extremely well. Both have stunning voices which never fail to please, whether in harmony in “Summer Nights” or solo in “Hopelessly Devoted to You” and “Sandy.” Zach Erhardt as Doody gives an unbelievable performance of “Those Magic Changes.”

Hannah Slabaugh, Madeleine Barker, Laura Helm, Liana Hunt, and Sari Alexander in Grease. Photo by Michael DeCristofaro.

Chris Collins-Pisano as Roger and Hannah Slabaugh as Jan are wonderfully comical in the number “Mooning.” Laura Helm beautifully portrays the sensual Marty with exquisite vocals in “Freddy, My Love.” Madeleine Barker and Chris Stevens are delightful as Rizzo and Kenickie. Their strong vocals are on notable display in “Greased Lightnin” and “There Are Worse Things I Could Do.” Both Casey Shane as Sonny LaTierri and Sari Alexander as Frenchy play up their characters to excellent comedic effect. Tim Falter’s portrayal of Vince Fontaine and Teen Angel are superb, and his performance of “Beauty School Dropout” is inspired. Kaitlin Nelson and Tim Russell are very funny as Patty and Eugene; while Robert Serrano sings charmingly as Johnny Casino, and Katherine Margo Brown gives a great performance as Cha-Cha DiGregorio.

Supporting this magnificent cast is a very clever set designed by Stephen Dobay, and great costuming by Matthew Solomon. Incredible music is provided by the entire orchestra under direction from Alec Bart. Lighting by Zach Blane is very effective, while Laura Shubert’s terrific sound design allows the entire show to be fully appreciated and enjoyed.

The only problem? It’s over too soon, you’re going to want to stay longer. Grease is most definitely the word you’ll be repeating over and over.

Running Time: 2 hours, including one 15 minute intermission.

Grease plays through August 27, 2017 at the John W. Engeman Theater at Northport – 250 Main Street, in Northport, NY. For tickets call the box office at (631) 261-2900 or purchase them online.