by Susan Edlin-Marlowe
Grease erupted on Broadway about 30 years ago and quickly ensconced itself in the popular consciousness, culminating in the 1978 film extravaganza, starring John Travolta, Olivia Newton-John and Stockard Channing. Since that time it has been staged by professional groups, colleges and community theaters. It's basically a fun show with some raunchy moments -- after all, it does take place in 1959. And where were you in l959? I was in 11th grade, so the show hits home in many ways.
The third production of a stellar summer at Coeur d'Alene Summer Theatre, Grease opened Saturday, and was just a lot of fun. The audience cheered, there was a standing ovation at the end, and everyone had smiles on their faces as they left the auditorium. Quite frankly, with about four live theater productions of Grease under my belt, I do believe this is the best one to date.
Directed by the very talented Bob Sembiante (who directed last year's Music Man), with musical direction by Steven Dahlke, the show rocks. Part of the rock credit must go to Nick Herman and Bryan Swenland on guitar, Bruce Pennell on bass and Mark Tietjen on drums. Sembiante is also responsible for the delightful and accurate choreography capturing the essence of the '50s. Judith McGiveney did an excellent job on costuming the appropriately retro production; how I remember those crinolines, the tight sheath skirts and the sweater with (ahem) pointy bras.
Like many of the plays/movies of this ilk, it starts with the present and takes us back into the past to remember, reminisce and otherwise jog our memories of high school relationships, dances, drag races and peer pressure.
Grownups first: the show had some lovely cameos by Annie Travolta (yet another Travolta to take the Schuler stage), Michael McGiveney and Jim Thomas. But the show belongs to the young, and the two leads did a fine job.
It was great to see Meghan Maddox, who has done her time as a chorus member, step out and take center stage in the Sandy Dumbrowski role. Meghan does an excellent job letting the character evolve from virtuous honor student to her emergence at the play's finale as the attractive va-va-voom blonde chick girlfriend of Danny Zuko. Maddox has a lovely voice, and using her skill as a trained dancer, her physicality was always appropriate. Kevin Partridge as Danny Zuko did a credible job, and he has a wonderful vocal instrument; he is not, however, a dancer (a trait that we associate with the Danny Zuko role), so he took a back seat to his excellent cronies. This bundle of talent featured Ryan Montgomery as Kenickie (what a dancer!), Christopher Moll as Sonny Latierri (a character right out of my high school yearbook), and Frank Jewett as Johnny Casino (the loveable nerd).
On the girls' side we had Jennifer Niederloh and her fabulous voice as Marty, Shane Frampton as the rough Rizzo (the role that divas love to play), Katie Strohmaier as Frenchy, Amy Ross as Jan and Melissa Fleck as the totally annoying Patty Simcox (we all remember that girl from high school, don't we?). The ladies did a terrific job of recreating the group mentality that we clung to back in those days.
Kenneth Michael Glass provides a tour de force moment in Act Two as the Teen Angel. Glass broke his ankle in Crazy For You -- doing those crazy dance routines and had to sit out Cabaret, but he is back in full glory. Michael and the Angelettes made "Beauty School Drop Out" a show stopper. Glass looked and sounded great, and the girls in their funky white outfits were a scream.
The production moved along beautifully in Act One. Only one technical glitch is the fact that with ALL those mikes on, it's almost impossible to decipher the lyrics when everybody's singing. Mercifully, when the soloists take off from the group, we hear them loud and clear. Once. In twos and threes, there's no problem either. It's a sound issue with too many mikes on at one time, but other than the big group numbers in Act One, the sound was just fine.
Unfortunately the production hit another hitch at the beginning of Act Two, when it slowed down to a snail's pace, and I thought we'd never get to the hot dancing action at the High School Hop. Thankfully, we finally arrived there and the pace kept up until the end.
The familiar songs abound: "Summer Nights," "Freddy My Love," "Look at Me, I'm Sandra Dee," "The Hand Jive," and "Beauty School Drop Out," just to name a few. Coeur d'Alene Summer Theatre last produced Grease in 1981, and I'm sure you've seen a production or two since then. But don't miss this one. It's a cool treat for a hot summer night.