“Grease” at Ivoryton Is a Hot, Summer Night Entertainment

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Photo by Jonanthan Steele

By Karen Isaacs

 The musical Grease has always seemed a quintessential “summer” show even though it really takes place during the school year. But something about the boys and girls at Rydell High in the late 1950s reminds me of beaches, drive-in and car hops. (You have to be 50+ to recall these).

The production at Ivoryton Playhouse, through Sunday, July 29 is a pleasant summer entertainment. It may not be the best musical production Ivoryton has done in recent years, but it will provide a very enjoyable night of entertainment.

So while I will find faults in both this production and in the show itself, if you just relax and “go with the flow” you’ll have a good time.

It’s hard to believe than anyone doesn’t recall at least the basic elements of the plot. We have the students that many of us considered during high school years as “losers” – the girls and boys who broke all the rules of the period – smoked, drank, had sex, dressed in tight clothes and had little ambition. Into this mix comes the “new girl” – Sandy Dumbrowski who the others view as a “goody two shoes”  because he doesn’t do any of these things. She’s had a summer romance with one of the guys, Danny Zuko ;they each were less than truthful with each other and now, of course, the truth comes out.

The guys led (sort of) by Danny call themselves the Burger Palace Boys – Kenickie, Doody, Roger and others. Most of their girl friends are the Pink Ladies led by the cynical Rizzo and including Frenchy, Sandy and Marty.

Of course, there must be the “objects of fun” and these are Patty and Eugene, both awkward socially but high achievers.

The romance between Sandy Dumbrowski (not to confuse her with the other Sandy) and Danny doesn’t run smooth; his friends make fun of her, he tries to push too fast and too hard and more. It finally works out when she becomes the “uber” Pink Lady.

Let’s admit that this show seems to glamorize those who look down on others who want to achieve.  Only when Sandy becomes super tough is she accepted and liked. You may also notice that there is a great deal of sexual innuendo (and some more blatant) that considers girls as just objects to the guys.

But perhaps I am trying to make this show more than it is meant to be. Yet, I’m not sure I would encourage young teens to see it: the message seems all wrong.

But leaving that aside, the Ivoryton production directed and choreographed by Todd L. Underwood has many good moments.

Musically, it is quite strong. The score contains many well-known songs, some incorporated from the hit film that starred Olivia Newton-John and John Travolta including “Hopelessly Devoted to You” and “You’re the One I Want.” But the audience obviously knew and responded to many of the other songs – “Summer Nights,”  “Freddy, My Love,” “Look at Me, I’m Sandra Dee,” “We Go Together,” “Beauty School Drop Out” and others.

The ensemble offers many of the highlights of the show. The group numbers from “Summer Nights” to “Greased Lightnin’” to the finale are energetic, well sung and well danced.

Johnny Newcomb seems almost too clean cut and nice as Danny. He handles the songs very well, but he doesn’t project the charisma and toughness that Danny usually does. He seems more like a nice kid, who has gone a little bit astray but will be all right in the end.

As Sandy, Kimberly Immanuel also handles the music well; especially the two big numbers – “Hopelessly Devoted to You,” and “It’s Raining on Prom Night.” But she needs to project more strength – her attitude and appearance when she adopts her Pink Lady persona comes out of left field.

The surrounding cast is strong. Alyssa V. Gomez has the tough, cynical Rizzo down to a tee but also manages to project the other side of her: vulnerable and uncertain. Taylor Lloyd makes Marty almost too mature for the others, but handles “Freddie, My Love” well giving the song even more cynicism. The other Pink Ladies, Audrey Wilson as Jan (the always hungry teen) and Katelyn Bowman as Frenchie are very good. Each shows the uncertainties of being a teen with Frenchie creating a hard shell for protection.

Equally good are the members of the Burger Palace Boys – Luke Linsteadt as Doody, Taylor Lloyd as Roger (best known for mooning) and Natale Pirrotta as Kenicke. Lloyd makes the most of “Mooning” including several moons.

Lawrence Cummings handles the big number “Beauty School Drop Out” well; he totally captures the doo-wop sound, but it is lacking some attitude. It needs a little more “I told you so.”

As the director, Todd L. Underwood has made some choices that are problematic in a number of areas of the production. The choreography is energetic and good, but doesn’t always seem to reflect the ‘50s rock ‘n roll. Eugene, the requisite nerd played by Cory Candelet (who was terrific as the Mute in The Fantasticks) becomes a physical comedy role with lots of tripping, falling down and a very stooped posture. It makes this character even more of a caricature. Even in the costume department you may quibble with some of the choices. Would Marty really wear what seems like a string of pearls? Why do the girls seldom where their Pink Lady jackets and why are the jackets pale pink?

Yet, despite these complaints, overall this production of Grease will bring back memories and get you moving to the beats of that period.

It is at Ivoryton Playhouse through Sunday, July 29. For tickets, visit Ivoryton Playhouse or call 860-767-7318.

This material is courtesy of Shore Publications and zip06.com

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