Grease is a musical that celebrates the changes born of the late 1950s era of rock n’ roll, drive-in movies, and James Dean–an era that sat on the cusp of the turbulent 1960s. Riverside Center for the Performing Arts served up a Broadway-quality show, thanks to Director and Choreographer Patti D’Beck (who assistant choreographed Tommy Tune’s 1994 Broadway revival), music, lyrics, and book by Warren Casey and Jim Jacobs, and additional songs by John Farrar. This production offers a nostalgic afternoon for music lovers of all ages that strikes like “Greased Lightning.”
Grease featured much pre-show entertainment, including a dance contest hosted by Grease character DJ Vince Fontaine (the charming Alan Hoffman). D’Beck cleverly had the stern Rydell High School Headmistress Miss Lynch (Kathy Halenda) warm up the audience by traversing through their dinner tables and making silly jokes at their expense.
Grease follows the fictional Rydell High’s senior class of 1959, and features themes of on-again-off-again love and the loss of innocence. As D’Beck put it: “Grease is set in 1959 for good reason–it’s not just about the changing of decades but the changing of eras.”
The stellar orchestra made the musical numbers rock and roll. Conductor Garrett Jones led Jennifer Curtis and Tony Moran on woodwinds; Michael Huffman on trumpet; Brad Gunson on guitar; Joanna Smith on bass; and Tim Harrington and Tim Wilson on percussion.
The male and female lead characters, Danny Zuko and Sandy Dumbrowski, in a given production of Grease must be spot on to pull off a great production. Tyler Michael Breeding (in his second time in the role) and Justine Verheul (who has appeared Off-Broadway in Swan Lake Rock Opera) more than qualify.
Breeding and Verheul were dynamite together in the flashback-themed “Summer Nights.” Breeding shined in “Alone at a Drive-In Movie.” Verheul soloed magnificently in “Hopelessly Devoted to You.”
The secondary couple in Grease, Kenickie and Betty Rizzo, were fabulously played by Theron Smith III and Taylor Lloyd. Smith sang with fervor about a would-be hot rod, “Greased Lightning,” (a car brought to life by Properties Master/Set Dresser Bridgid K. Burge) and Lloyd knocked “There Are Worse Things I Could Do,” about Rizzo’s dicey “family-way” predicament, to the moon.
There was an amazing surprise: Philip Alexander’s commanding stage presence and vocals as Teen Angel in the iconic number “Beauty School Dropout.” Alexander, the Owner and Executive Director of Virginia’s Mid Atlantic Equality Chamber of Commerce, brilliantly invited audience participation and delivered a standout performance.
A third prominent couple in Grease, Roger and Jan, were played by the marvelous Joey Gravins and Gabrielle Gutierrez. That duo brought touches of angst and humor to risible oddballs Roger and Jan in “Mooning.”
Numbers like “Those Magic Changes” and “Rock and Roll Party Queen” were quickened by Kyle Boardman, who played Doody. “Freddy, My Love” featured a solo by Gabrielle Donadio’s Marty.
Joe Mayes brought swagger to his role as one of the “Burger Palace Boys,” Sonny Latierri. Jarrett Bloom made Eugene Florczyk empathetic and was definitely “Born to Hand Jive” when he performed in that song and dance number.
The scenic design, by DT Willis, relied on painted flats, and a raised platform on which the orchestra sat, behind a scrim. Willis also used a scenery wagon that depicted a row of lockers, to great effect. The Lighting Design by Michael Jarett was effective, but a touch too noticeable and obvious at times. Kyna Chilcot’s costume design evoked the period.
Producing Artistic Director Patrick A’Hearn has another hit that will bring patrons from miles around. This production of Grease is a show you will be ”Hopelessly Devoted” to.
Running Time: Approximately 2 hours and 30 minutes, including one 15-minute intermission.
Grease plays through March 15, 2020, at Riverside Center for the Performing Arts, 95 Riverside Parkway, Fredericksburg, VA. To purchase your tickets, call the Box Office at (540) 370-4300, or order them online.
Frenchy, Georgia Cerisano; Cha-Cha Degregorio, Sally Roehl; Patti Simcox/Dance Captain, Stephanie Wood; Ensemble, Cody Edwards, Wilson Pezzuto, Colleen Kleveno, Cristy Briggs