Escondido, CA---As a teenager in the early 50’s I recall ‘the livin was easy’. However that was eons ago yet seeing all those young, energetic and confident Rydell High School seniors class of ’59 strutting their stuff and acting like well…hot shots in the Jim Jacobs & Warren Casey 1959 high school musical “Grease” made me envious; not to live those days again, but to have some of that energy!
“Grease” debuted in Chicago in 1971, quickly moved to Broadway where it ran for 18 years with 3388 performances. Made into a movie in 1978 starring John Travolta and Olivia Newton John and it became a box office smash hit.
Some years ago yours truly managed to catch the movie on TBS and now it is a staple on local stages in and around the county. Welk Theatre in Escondido is showcasing it through July 27th. Originally the play was called raunchy and vulgar but as it gathered steam it was ‘sanitized’ and tamed and became more generic especially for the movies.
It’s still pretty tame according to today’s standards and the ‘teenagers’ of Rydell High are now so generic that even with the color blind casting of Yvonne as Rizzo (which seems out of place especially for a 50’s setting) it’s really difficult to buy into all of the trials and tribulations they encountered since everything is so whitewashed and the stock characters stereotypical and one dimensional.
Even on the more serious subjects of high school pregnancy, who’s in and who’s out, and gang violence, today’s high school students have seen it all so nothing really shocks. What does resonate is the already built in bully willing to pounce, peer pressure and the more sophisticated gang violence. Our kids today understand that.
The story starts out by introducing us to the new gal in town Sandy (Rachel Davis). We learn that over the summer she and hot jock leader of ‘Burger Palace Boys’ of Rydell High, Danny (Nick Adorno) were an item. (“Summer Nights”). It was attraction at first sight. But that lasted only until reality set in and the school semester started. (Those Magic Changes”)
When they meet up again in the cafeteria on the first day of school to renew old acquaintances Danny just about ignores Sandy sending her in a tailspin of confusion and that starts the ball rolling.
Over the course of time things get worse for her before they get better because she is the outsider and, frankly she gets treated like dog doo by the “Pink Ladies” especially Patty who has her claws aimed for Danny. It isn’t pretty; no one really steps in and until she’s convinced to look and dress like one of them (heavy duty makeup and mini-mini skirt) she doesn’t have a chance. (“You’re The One I Want”) and finally the reprise “We Go Together”.
The players involved include ‘The Burger Palace Boys’ Kenickie (Lucas Coleman), Sonny (Ariel Neydavoud), Doody (Jake Saenz), Roger (Will Huse) and of course leader of the greaser’s Danny.
The ‘Pink Ladies’, their counterparts include attitude and troublemaker, tough speaking and leader Rizzo (Yvonne) “There Are Worse Things I could Do” and “Sandra Dee”, sexy Marty (April Henry), Frenchy (Allyson Spiegelman, “Beauty School Dropout” sung with Teen Angel Rex Smith who can still belt out a tune but as DeeJay before the show has cue cards that he reads?), compulsive eater Jan (Bethany Slomka is always a kick) and head cheerleader Patty (Bailey Sonner appropriately bitchy and manipulative but always with a bounce in her step and a smile on her face).
Director/Choreographer Ray Limon and his cast move through the music and dance numbers with ease. “Born To Handjive” being just about the best coordinated of the dancing. Other dance numbers are handled with more enthusiasm than others. Overall though, ensemble dancing is peppy and spirited.
Standout appearances by April Henry’s Marty, Rachel Davis as the put upon outsider Sandy, comics Bethany Slomka and Will Huse (“Mooning”), Allyson Speigleman’s Frenchy and Nick Adorno’s Danny are worth noting. Feisty Sue Boland’s Miss Lynch the principal stays true to form as the one and only adult in the room although she does look like she was having too much fun. Why not?
Musical Director Justin Gray and his three musicians had a tendency, the day I attended, to over power some solo performers but the ensemble managed to overcome.
There were about 100 or so high school students at the matinee performance of “Grease” at the Welk Resort Theatre in Escondido the afternoon I attended. The young man near me had a smile on his face from ear to ear especially every time Frenchy and Marty, looking like bombs, came center stage.
I’m guessing that the gals in his school don’t look quite like the gals on stage at Welk, especially those that will never see eighteen again. There’s nothing wrong with wishful thinking. Hopefully they are smart enough not to take seriously the messages stemming from the story but will just enjoy the dancing and the trip back in time where everyone ‘lives happily ever after’.
If it’s a peek back in history that you want, “Grease” will give you a small taste of what it was like to be a high school student during the Rock ‘N Roll era.
And as for the title: ‘Greasers are another name for working class youth subculture that originated in the ‘50s in the northeastern and southern US street gangs’. The name came from their greased back hairstyles. We used to call that greased back hair D.A’s. ‘Nuff said.
See you at the theatre.
Dates: Through July 27th
Organization: Welk Resort Theatres
Production Type: Musical
Where: Lawrence Welk Drive, Escondido
Ticket Prices: $45.00-$48.00