Story: Sandy Drombowski had a most pleasant summer away from high school, striking up a romance with a nice young man named Danny Zuko. When the 1959 school year begins, however, Rydell High School’s newest student, Sandy, is surprised to learn that Danny goes there, too.
What she doesn’t know is that Danny is one of the tough guy Burger Palace Boys who hang together, kindred spirits to the Pink Ladies who are led by tough-talking Betty Rizzo. When she sees Danny, he’s suddenly cool and aloof to her.
Sandy is angry and hurt. Furthermore, Danny is pressured by flirtatious cheerleader Patty to go out for the track team, which he does hastily while botching up his friendship with Sandy.
Danny still likes Sandy, but he’s hung up on being a tough guy hangin’ with the other Burger Palace Boys, namely Kenickie, Doody, Rump and Sonny. Sandy does her best to fit in with the Pink Ladies, who beside Rizzo include the amorous Marty, easygoing Frenchie and chowhound Jan.
Will Sandy blend in with the other kids at Rydell High? And will Danny come to his senses and make up with the girl he told his friends about – with a little embellishment – and let her know that she’s the one that he wants? Stay tuned.
Highlights: The tunes are as infectious and enjoyable as ever in Stages’ agreeable and high-stepping serenade to the rock songs of the ‘50s in its newest version of Grease.
Other Info: The book by Jim Jacobs and Warren Casey may seem a bit dated, but the high- energy level of the songs written by Jacobs and Casey are as delightful as ever. Grease has been around now since 1971, a paean to the high school times remembered by Jacobs and Casey from their halcyon days in Chicago, where Grease originally opened before moving to Broadway in 1972.
The raunchy edges of Grease were smoothed out for its transfer to the Great White Way, where it amassed a staggering 3,388 performances before closing in 1980. A megahit movie with John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John followed in 1978, and a revival in 1994 played for more than 1,500 additional performances. Add another 585 performances of the 2007 Broadway revival and Grease ultimately had a run of nearly 5,500 performances in its three different Broadway incarnations.
The version being produced at Stages incorporates songs from the original version as well as four more tunes from the movie. Doubtless by now most people recognize most of the tunes, from the high-drivin’ Greased Lightnin’ to the softly swaying Summer Nights and Those Magic Changes to the rambunctious You’re the One That I Want.
Director Michael Hamilton coaxes a winning performance from Summerisa Bell Stevens as the gentle, tender Sandy, who undergoes a dramatic transformation just before the show concludes. Sam Harvey makes for an amiable if understated Danny, often blending in with the ensemble as others showcase their own talent.
There’s nothing subtle about Jesse Corbin’s portrayal of the fast-movin’ Kinickie as he takes command on the Greased Lightnin’ number, a piece given spirited choreography by Tony Gonzalez on the bright, cheery set designed by James Wolk. That set also features an amusing display of 45s on the backdrop with the names of the songs in the score of Grease.
Julia Johanos, a late addition to the cast, delivers a knockout performance as the attractive Marty, especially shining in numerous dance scenes. Lucy Moon is a comic tonic as the slow-thinking Frenchie, notably serenaded by Kendra Lynn Lucas as her ‘angel’ in the humorous number, Beauty School Dropout, which is accentuated with the lavish, exaggerated costumes designed by Brad Musgrove.
Morgan Cowling plays Rizzo as particularly tough and nasty, with plenty of grudges against most everyone, while Brooke Shapiro amuses as the wise-cracking Jan. She teams nicely with Collin O’Connor as “Rump” Roger as he explains how he got his nickname on the Mooning tune.
Patrick Mobley is entertaining as the shy Doody, fantasizing his future rock career on Those Magic Changes, and Frankie Thams does well as tough-guy Sonny, who isn’t nearly as scary as he pretends to be.
Steve Isom and Lucas are in fine form as the ‘adults’ in the room, namely glib, rhyming DJ Vince Fontaine and kind-hearted English teacher Miss Lynch, respectively. Aisling Halpin is fine as spoiled cheerleader Patty and Brad Frenette hits the mark as nerdy Eugene.
Tiger Brown enlivens the Born to Hand Jive dance as Danny’s unexpected partner, Cha-Cha DiGregorio. Hamilton also gets good efforts from Zach Trimmer, Bryn Purvis, Madison Tinder, Eric Keiser and Matthew Weidenbener.
Sean Savoie’s lighting adds to the luster of the design and musical director Lisa Campbell Albert deftly utilizes Stuart Elmore’s orchestral design.
Stages, which previously presented Grease in 2006, uses a version which includes additional songs by Barry Alan Gibb, John Farrar, Louis St. Louis and Scott Simon. While Grease is nearly 50 years old and its setting some 60 years in the past, its timeless tunes and its audience still go together.
Company: Stages St. Louis
Venue: Reim Theatre, Kirkwood Civic Center, 111 South Geyer Road
Dates: Through August 18
Tickets: $25-$65; contact 821-2407 or stagesstlouis.org
Rating: A 4 on a scale of 1-to-5.
Photos courtesy of Peter Wochniak