Tuesday, April 21, 2015

GREASE – A Hit From Broadway to Broadway Rose

The cast of "Grease" at Broadway Rose.

By Tina Arth and Darrell Baker

Producing Director Sharon Maroney, in her program welcome, says a mouthful when she explains Grease’s  enduring popularity: “it taps into the fun and innocence that we ‘think’ was the ‘50s.” Some of us who were actually there, crouching under our wooden desks as protection from Russian nukes, remember a world where the birth of rock & roll helped to distract us from some pretty terrifying stuff. Luckily, audiences today need escapism just as much as their mid-century predecessors. Hence, Grease can still be relied on to draw good-sized audiences, and a production as strong as the one at Broadway Rose is a sure-fire sellout.

 Kylie Clarke Johnson (Sandy) and Peter Liptak (Danny)  
In case someone just moved the rock you’ve been under, here’s a brief synopsis: Squeaky clean new girl Sandy Dumbrowski shows up at Rydell High, still aglow from a summer romance with Danny Zuko. Surprise! Danny is a student at Rydell, and in best “Leader of the Pack” fashion, a bad boy. Sandy hangs with the Pink Ladies, bad girl corollaries to Danny and the gang, but she’s too pure to really fit in (or keep her man). Baddest girl Rizzo thinks she’s pregnant by Kenickie, but it turns out she’s not. Sandy sheds her Sandra Dee image, dons black leather, and dances her way back into Danny’s arms. Remarkably, kids and adults way too young to have ever heard of Sandra Dee or “Leader of the Pack” still flock to see Grease, and they LOVE it. From the opening notes of the Rydell Alma Mater sing-along (a masterful touch to ensure audience engagement) to the finale, a thoroughly multi-generational Broadway Rose audience was cheering even louder than head cheerleader Patty Simcox!

Peter Liptak (“Danny”) and Kylie Clarke Johnson (“Sandy”) are at their best when performing together – their duet leads on “Summer Nights” and “You’re the One That I Want” are flawless, and beautifully supported by a typical Broadway Rose “power ensemble.” The parallel couple, Max Artsis (“Kenickie”) and Claire Rigsby (“Rizzo”) get the most interesting story line and some of the show’s best songs. “Greased Lighting,” Kenickie’s big vocal number, is a triple threat – pulsing lead and ensemble vocals, clever staging, and impressive (if punishing) athleticism. However, the show’s single finest moment is unquestionably Rigsby’s heart-wrenching delivery of “There Are Worse Things I Could Do.” We’ve seen countless productions of Grease through the years, and have never seen the song performed more convincingly.

“Beauty School Dropout” is an iconic number that is sometimes given more attention than it’s worth. However, the lighting, direction, staging, and unbelievable vocal by “Teen Angel” Collin Carver exceed our jaded expectations by a mile – and “Frenchy” (Emma Holland) is suitably overwhelmed by his advice. It would be criminal to overlook “Mooning” – a spectacular performance by Bryce Earheart (“Roger”) whose falsetto soars as he climbs the bleachers.

Grease done right is definitely a dancer’s show, and this production definitely gets it right. It’s not surprising, since director/choreographer Jacob Toth was assistant choreographer for the show’s most recent Broadway revival. The big dance-themed numbers like “Born to Hand Jive” and “Shakin’ at the High School Hop” are complemented by a steady flow of dance integrated into practically every song; we suspect that many of the actors will be nursing hidden bruises for weeks from all the high energy leaping and sliding!

Not surprisingly, tickets are in short supply, even with the last-minute addition of some Wednesday performances. The small, intimate theater is great for audience engagement, but limits the seating capacity. Buy your tickets on-line soon, and be prepared to be flexible about when you go!

Grease is playing at the Broadway Rose New Stage Theater in Tigard through Sunday, May 24th, with performances at 7:30 PM on Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays (plus Wednesday May 6, 13, and 20), 2:00 PM on Saturdays and Sundays and a special 2:00 PM performance on Friday, May 1.

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