THIS CAST OF GREASE IS AS SMOOTH AS GREASED LIGHTNING, THE 50’S ARE ALIVE IN WALNUT CREEK
The colourful world of Rydell High is open again at Contra Costa Musical Theatre’s delightful reboot of GREASE through April 30th. The perfect spring break hop to lighten up these past 100 days, with a fun cast and old 50’s charm directed by the dynamite Christina Lazo. With book, music, and lyrics by Jim Jacobs and Warren Casey, and featuring additional music by Barry Gibb and John Farrar, GREASE is one of the smash hit musicals that is enjoyable even a second or third time--we have all seen the icon car Greased Lighting. With a talented cast of 30, Lazo has also choreographed some full throttle classics. Writers Jim Jacobs and Warren Casey first came up with the concept of "Grease" during a party, after a couple of beers. The best way to develop a hit musical that has become an icon of regional, college and high school theatre. CCMT first did this musical back in 2004, and brings back some or the same players who now are on the excellent production team.
With a forty-four year history, GREASE has become one of the most successful musicals in the history of theater and is still rocking. I suppose HAMILTON will step up to that honor soon enough, but Danny and sweetheart Sandy hold down that honor this spring in Walnut Creek. This highly infectious musical takes the audience back to the 1950’s with music, dance, romance and comedy with some clever modern references that keep this production fresh. The musical tells the story of Danny Zuko and Sandy Dumbrowski, who fall in love during the summer, part ways, and then are suddenly thrown together when they end up at the same high school. It has always had a Romeo and Juliet feel to it, set to 50's rock hop music. Danny and Sandy, the slick Massimo Cardarelli and Catherine Bartomeo, perform admirably. Both turn in appropriate vocals for the opening number “Hopelessly Devoted” and handle the singing requirements well. But these two are not the highlight of this cast. The large supporting cast brings the energy, humor, and talent to the show. With vibrant performances by the supporting roles.
It's vintage 50’s poodle skirts and leather jackets. The cast fills the Hofmann stage with magnetic energy. They perform 22 songs in two hours. The staging, set, choreography and voices are what you might expect from a professional, touring production. From the Pink Ladies “Freddy My Love” a highlight performance by Mary Kalita in her flawless performance as Betty Rizzo, her face and body language reflecting all the issues of being a troubled teen. “Grease is the Word” shows off the talent of this ensemble and highlights Lazo’s breezy choreography. The high octane Michael Doppe as Danny’s side kick Kenicke has a great voice and worked the stage well. The class clown and T Bird Roger “Rump” is well played by Matt Haupert, who has perfect stage presence, and sings the classic ”Mooning” and fit the role. Melissa Momboisse as Frenchie the “drop out” was very funny. Local favorite Max DeSantis has the perfect comic geeky timing for Eugene. My hope one day is to see an Asian or Black “Zuko”. For this cast the fantastic Joren Reyes is show stopping as Sonny Latierri; his every entrance shows his professional style to carry the confidence and humor that will make this young actor a headliner.
A highlight in the first act is “Greased Lighting” featuring sexy Michael Doppe. Props expert Debbie Shelley scored a working car, loaned from the Fullerton Light Opera. Lazo featured her best dancers to make this a show stopping number that jumps out at you. With the superb Minseob Yeom’s sizzling flips and acrobatic dance surprises - “Greased Lighting” comes to life also featuring the nimble Conrad Rocha, Max DeDantis, Dominic Lessa, and the T Bird boys Chris Aceves, Matt Haupert, and the sizzling Reyes.
All the iconic jukebox GREASE numbers were well danced by the troop and “We Go Together” with the Pink Ladies and T Bird Boys is also memorable. The adult cast is enthusiastic and fills in those stereotypical roles with class comic skills including Miss Lynch played by the keen Diella Worttrich. The adorable Ali Lane with her gongs and chimes to get the kids to class is the assistant principal, and the likable Bob Stratton is the Coach. Eugene’s side kick is the brown noser Patty Wilcox, played by the peppy Nikki Nickerson. The lovely Andrea Dennison-Laufer is featured in “Freddy My Love” and shows off a pitch perfect voice as Marty with the other Pink Ladies including the polished Briel Pomerantz as Jan.
The second act brings out some great performances by four featured actors that bring this Rydell High the perfect sock hop. The charismatic Daniel Rubio brings that lively charm to the stage as rocker Johnny Casino in “Shakin at the High School Hop”, his voice is so driven. Seasoned flashy Bay Area vet Joel Roster drops into play radio DJ, Vince Fontaine, and takes over the Sock hop with a likeable suave smoothness as he chases high school girls. Roster and Rubio host the anthem “Born To Hand Jive” that features the entire cast including the clever adults.
A fun romp that also captures the fab Katie Iannitello as the Italian seductress Cha Cha with her flowing dress and flamenco styled dance routine that just made this GREASE sock hop even more definitive. Finally the powerhouse Elecia Tyson soares through the Hofmann theatre as Teen Angel in “Beauty School Drop Out”. I am always pleased to see diversity especially out in Walnut Creek, it would have been nice to see more - I did see a black and white Sandy and Danny a few years back, but in this production the two leads are lost when the brilliant supporting cast steps out. The ensemble also include the bright dancing and performances from Christine Curulla, Catherine Delos Santos, Jenna Harris, Dominic Lessa, Patrick Maravilla, Caedon Perriman, Claire Shepard, and Shelby Stewart.
Director/Choreographer Christina Lazo supplies detail and lively dances for this cast, however, many of the transitions between scenes were clumsy, and the pacing is sure to improve as the sell out run continues. The craft team for GREASE is headed by music director Cary Litchford and his seven piece orchestra that brings the appealing 50's sound out of the cast. Including in “You’re The One That I Want” that closes the story line with that classic transformation from good to bad girl. The set is the main wing at Rydell High designed by talented Kelly James Tighe with rows of lockers and a bleachers he designed that were built by Rooster Productions. Tighe also created a second level to spread out this large cast for some of the impressive over the top production numbers. Mike Oesch’s lighting design is enriched with some stylized fog and his down stage lighting for the Pajama Party, and brilliant bright sock hop number. Liz Martin pulled out all her 50’s costumes for this young cast including the swooping poodle skirts, pink jackets, cheer leader reds, Eugene’s broken glasses and of course the classic leather jackets for the T Bird boys. Michael Berg, hair designer, kept his boys in long hair to add their combed back greased look, and the wigs on the girls all worked well.
GREASE takes us back to “simpler times,” where hanging out at the drive-in and smoking a crazy amount of cigarettes vs schoolwork and skipping gym. Part of its charm is that no matter how many times you seen Hand Jive, you’ll have a great time. GREASE is a first class production that hits the right “be bop” with not just the cast but also the audience, that sang along with many of the numbers and were on their feet with a standing ovation as the show closed. Take a ride back to the 50’s this spring and hurry to the Dean Lesher and CCMT, tickets are selling fast.
Contra Costa Musical Theatre Presents
Book, Music and Lyrics
by Jim Jacobs and Warren Casey
Directed and Choreographed
by Christina Lazo
Music Director Cary Litchford
Dustin Riggs and Cherie Davis
Through April 30 2017
Dean Lesher Center for the Arts
1601 Civic Dr, Walnut Creek, CA 94596
Two hours and 15 min with an intermission
Tickets and more info at http://www.ccmt.org/gypsy
Photo’s by Linda Carter
CCMT is offering Free Ice Cream Friday nights if you come dressed in your best 50’s style.
Audiences attending Friday performances are encouraged to don their best poodle skirts, leather jackets, and 50s garb for “50s Friday’s!” a celebration of all things 50s that will include a cast-lead / audience participatory “Sing A-Long Curtain Call.” Friday audiences will vote from a selection of Grease’s biggest hits, and will be invited to get on their feet, show off their best hand-jive, and sing along with cast members in what is sure to be a party for everyone attending. Adds Executive Producer Dustin Riggs, “We are incredibly excited for our ‘50s Friday’s’ events, and are looking forward to seeing some great costumes at the theater! Additionally, this is first time we’ve added a post-show sing-a-long—it’s a great opportunity for cast and audience members to get their Grease groove on!”
Every Friday: March 31, April 7, 14, 21, 28