Entertainment » Theatre


by Les Spindle
EDGE Media Network Contributor
Sunday Apr 14, 2013
Harley Jay, Michael Cusimano, Natalie MacDonald and Katherine Malak
Harley Jay, Michael Cusimano, Natalie MacDonald and Katherine Malak  (Source:Ed Krieger)

Cabrillo Music Theatre's revisit to the perennially popular musical "Grease" is skillfully directed by Barry Pearl, who was in the original Broadway cast. His production yields an enjoyable dose of nostalgia and mirth.

This rollicking slice of high-school life, circa late 1950s, began as a 1972 Off-Broadway musical frolic, then quickly moved to Broadway, where it played until 1980. The show (book, music and lyrics by Jim Jacobs and Warren Casey) achieved its widest familiarity in the blockbuster 1978 film version, starring John Travolta at the peak of his popularity, opposite a radiant Olivia Newton-John.

The show's appeal subsequently endured in two Broadway revivals, international productions, and national tours. (The less said about the 1982 movie sequel "Grease 2," the better.)

The modestly plotted piece feels somewhat dwarfed in the mammoth Kavli Theatre auditorium, but nonetheless, the evening truly rocks. This effort has the feel of a peppy rock-and-roll songfest, where the music and dancing are stellar, while characterizations and plot generally take a back seat.

The buoyant proceedings begin to wear down a bit following intermission, as some sequences begin to feel repetitive. This is partially due to a thin book, which seemed a bit more substantial in the film version.

Jacobs' and Casey's delightful score captures the style and energy of popular music of the Eisenhower era. Considering the depressing and terrifying news that proliferates our media nowadays, it's a joy to recall the happy days and optimistic spirit of a more carefree and innocent America.

From the exuberant "We Go Together" to the showstopping "Born to Hand Jive," the musical numbers are spryly choreographed by Kelly Ward (who acted in the film version), eliciting much toe-tapping fun. Such comedic numbers as "Look at Me, I'm Sandra Dee" and "Mooning" provide satirically on-target nods to a refreshingly goofy time.

Adrian Zmed, who performed in the original production, has a dazzling cameo as the Teen Angel, crooning the dreamlike "Beauty School Dropout."

Unlike the Broadway revivals, this licensing of the original material doesn't include some favorite songs written especially for the film. Among songs not present here are the sizzling "You're the One That I Want" and the terrific title tune, as well as some authentic background music culled from the period. Nonetheless, there are plenty of kick-ass sounds here. Musical director David O lavishes TLC on the ever-engaging score, eliciting dazzling work from the orchestra and the talented ensemble cast.

Ward does a bang-up job of resurrecting dance styles of the rock-and-roll heyday, such as in the numbers "Born to Hand-Jive,"" "Shakin' at the High School Hop," and "Greased Lightning." The performers are as adept with the dazzling dances as with their vocal requirements. Musically, this show fires on all cylinders.

The characterizations are generally solid, serving the satiric humor well. Standing out is Adrian Zmed, who performed in the original production. He has a dazzling cameo as the Teen Angel, crooning the dreamlike "Beauty School Dropout" to spunky Frenchy (played deliciously by Tessa Grady), of the cool "Pink Ladies" clique.

Particularly sublime is Katherine Malak as the toughest of the Pink Ladies, Betty Rizzo. Her terrific delivery of the gorgeous 11:00 number "There Are Worse Things I Can Do" brings out the thick-skinned gal's vulnerability. Her earlier take on the aforementioned "Sandra Dee" song is hilarious. (The amusing lyric about 'Annette' in this song struck an ironically poignant note, due to Annette Funicello's death last week.)

The swaggering campus cutup Kenickie is in the expert hands of actor-singer Harley Jay, whose finest moment is leading the aforementioned "Greased Lighting." Other members of the male clique, the Burger Palace Boys, are deftly played by triple-threat talents Nick Tubbs, Ryan Quick, and Nick Bernardi.

In the romantic lead role of Danny Zuko (chief Burger Palace Boy), the role that rocketed Travolta to super-stardom, Michael Cusimano, is a fine performer but never breaks out with the expected charismatic star presence.

The same can be said about Natalie MacDonald as his demure ladylove, Sandy, the new student (the Newton-John role). MacDonald is accomplished here, but not spectacular. To be fair to these two performers, these characters were built up as more central figures in the film. In this version, their love affair doesn't particularly stand out amid the episodic plot.

All in all, this revival provides a joyous evening for those who aren't determined to compare it to the film. There's skill and artistry evident in this effort, and the music remains as irresistible as ever.

"Grease" runs through Apr. 21 at the Kavli Theatre, 2100 Thousand Oaks Blvd. For information or tickets, call 800-745-3000 or 805-449-2787, or visit www.ticketmaster.com


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