By Don Church and Tony Schillaci, Critics On The Aisle
(Photo of Natale Pirrotta and cast in “Greased Lightnin'” by Jonathan Steele)
The historic Ivoryton Playhouse in calm, leafy Ivoryton Connecticut is rocking with good cheer with an energetic feel good production of the popular musical GREASE through July 29th.
From the opening number, “Grease Is The Word”, the enthusiastic and talented cast bursts with energy – and a fun time in the theater begins on an upbeat note. Even when teen-angst moments befall lovesick Rydell High School students Sandy, Rizzo or Danny, there is always an optimistic vibe in the production that tells you it’s all going to turn out all right.
Acclamied Director/choreographer Todd Underwood has, once again, chosen a sparkling team of young actor/singer/dancers who deliver a terrific show. It’s easy to imagine that all these characters are real, and that these kids have been schoolmates and friends (or frenemies) for years. When Sandy and Danny reveal the details to their respective cliques about their beach romance with the song “Summer Nights,” the Pink Ladies, Burger Palace Boys and ensemble players join in chorus pleading “tell me more, tell me more”- as realistically as would any 1959 senior class of adolescents hungry for gossip.
The musical originated in a Chicago nightclub in 1971 and right away a New York production was imagined. The 1972 Broadway book, music and lyrics by Jim Jacobs and Warren Casey, had many – but not all – of the songs that were included in the blockbuster 1978 movie. Fortunately for Ivoryton Playhouse audiences, this production, under the baton of resident musical director Michael Morris conducting the exceptional band, has been given official permission to use “You’re The One That I Want,” “Grease,” “Sandy” (sung by Danny) and “Hopelessly Devoted To You” (sung by Sandy) into the Ivoryton production. Both Kimberly Immanuel* as an innocent Sandy and Johnny Newcomb* as heart-throb Danny sing their respective love songs with an emotional longing that, in live performance, is more true-to-life than the Hollywood version.
Every cast member is outstanding: Natale Pirrotta* who plays tough guy Kenickie, rocks with manic energy in “Greased Lightnin”: Alyssa V. Gomez* as Pink Lady Rizzo beautifully belts out a poignant “There Are Worse Things I Could Do” and Lawrence Cummings* as Teen Angel has the audience screaming for more of his incredible vocal talents.
Taylor Lloyd as Marty delivers a delicious song reminiscent of all those 50’s girl groups in “Freddy, My Love.” The comically adorable team of Taylor Morrow as Roger and Audrey Wilson as Jan combine their dual magnetism in the funny and slightly risqué “Mooning” song. Katelyn Bowman as Frenchy shows her comic chops as she battles for stage supremacy with Teen Angel when he chides her for being a “Beauty School Dropout.”
Max Weinstein as the brash uber-testosterone crazed Sonny is kept in line by Amy Buckley’s uptight Miss Lynch – the tough frustrated school administrator who is forever in a tizzy as to how to control the kids.
Patty, the goody, goody girl, who is more annoying than mean, is bouncingly brought to life by Alexa Racioppi, who is perfection as the beautiful cheerleader trying unsuccessfully to steal Danny away from Sandy. Hey, a girl must try, mustn’t she?
Connecticut Critics Circle award-winner Cory Candelet as Eugene – the clumsy school nerd – trips, falls, dances insanely and sings exuberantly without once breaking character. His inspiration for Eugene’s dancing could easily have been influenced by the Julia Louis-Dreyfus “Seinfeld” character Elaine Benes. Cory delivers a memorable wacky and unforgettable performance. He’s heir to the great comedic stars Buster Keaton, Bert Lahr, and yes, even Lucille Ball.
Shalani Taylor as the slinky glamor-gal Cha Cha, Luke Linsteadt* as handsome Doody and Jonny Cortes as rocker Johnny Casino sparkle in their individual roles – and wow! these kids can dance! There are so many exceptional dance sequences in this show that it’s a challenge to choose a favorite, yet “Born To Hand Jive” is a contender for top honors.
The show’s excitement is a combination of the inspired blocking and choreography by nationally acclaimed, award-winning Mr. Underwood, coupled with the principle cast members and the beautifully fluid ensemble: Andee Buccheri, Jamaal Fields-Green, Amanda Lupacchino, Nate Russo, Jared Starkey and Clementine Wurzbach. Each of these Broadway Babies will undoubtedly have their chosen careers enhanced by the Ivoryton Playhouse experience.
Daniel Nischan has designed a set which takes the geometric elements of rectangles and squares, outlined in clean black lines on a white background, to suggest beds, garage doors, benches, stairs and bleachers. This unique set looks uncomplicated, although it is surprisingly complex. Its intricate unique construction allows for rapid scene changes. In the blink of an eye a bed becomes a bench, or garage doors open to reveal the aptly cartoonish hot-rod car -“Greased Lightning.” The set never competes with the action, and gently challenges the audience to use its collective imagination to define the location of each scene.
When GREASE opened Off-Broadway in 1972 it received seven Tony Award nominations. The 1994 revival also garnered Tony nominations and the show went on to a successful national tour, featuring former Monkee and Ivoryton alum Micky Dolenz as Vince Fontaine.
Executive producers of this version of the show are Michael A. Dattilo and Frank Perrotti. The Ivoryton tech team offers lighting design by Marcus Abbott, sound by Tate R. Burmeister, costumes, hair and wigs by Elizbeth Saylor Cipollina, stage management by Theresa Stark* assisted by Nicole Weigert.*
For a special treat this July, abandon the beach and barbeque for a few hours and enjoy a lively, fun romp with the kids of Rydell High at the air-conditioned Ivoryton Playhouse. And yes, the imaginary school was named for Bobby Rydell, teen idol of the 70’s. (Google him!)
GREASE runs through July 29. Performance times are Wednesday and Sunday matinees at 2pm. Evening performances are Wednesday and Thursday at 7:30pm, Friday and Saturday at 8pm. Matinee performances have been added on Saturday, July 7, 14 and 28 at 2pm.
Tickets are $55 for adults; $50 for seniors; $25 for students and $20 for children and are available by calling the Playhouse box office at 860-767-7318 or by visiting www.ivorytonplayhouse.org.
(Group rates are available by calling the box office for information.) The Playhouse is located at 103 Main Street in Ivoryton.
*denotes member of Actors Equity