Grease

Dionna Eshelman, Emily Rose Lyons and Alison Bagli in “Grease.”

Sierra Repertory Theatre is now presenting an all new production of “Grease,” the musical and perennial audience favorite.

The year is 1959. The cold war is in full swing. Second-hand smoke is swirling everywhere. The world is in transition, and a group of students is trying to navigate the perils of high school. But, that is just the backstory for this play, and the focus is, as it should be, on the music and the spirited, energetic musical numbers, which have made this play so enduring. Director and choreographer Adam Estes has adeptly assembled a cast with strikingly strong vocal abilities and he guides them through impressive dancing feats.

The play gets its name from the bad boys of Rydell High School, who use copious amounts of hair product and wear black leather jackets. They spend a lot of their time styling their hair and working on cars. Their girlfriends stand out in their tight skirts and make-up, in contrast to the cheerleaders with their poodle skirts and school spirit. Depending on where one went to high school in that era, there were different names for the groups of rebels and outcasts who populated high schools at the time. At my high school, we called them rogues, and imagined their lives to be more interesting and mysterious than our own. When we all met later at high school reunions, they had become parents, writers, musicians or, perhaps, business owners. In other words, we were all the same after all. But, in the pecking order of high school, we clung to the security of our own cliques.

When Danny Zuko (Kyle Thomas Mangold) meets Sandy Dumbrowski (Alison Bagli) at the beach in summer, away from the influences of school, they are able to forge a tentative relationship, which they recount with longing in the song, “Summer Nights.” But, when they meet in the halls back at school, Danny succumbs to peer pressure from his buddies and acts disinterested in Sandy. Hurt by his rejection, Sandy accepts solace from “The Pink Ladies,” a formidable set who want to tutor her in the art of attracting boys.

Mangold is impressive as the awkward, yet charismatic Danny, and we can see why many of the girls are attracted to him. Bagli charms in a stellar performance as the fresh-faced, naïve Sandy, who thinks she must change to fit in. Her rendition of “Hopelessly Devoted to You,” delivered in a clear and commanding voice, is stunning.

At a slumber party, we learn more about Rizzo, (Emily Rose Lyons) Marty, (Julia Adams) Jan, (Liz Erardi) and Frenchy, (Dionna Eshleman). These members of the Pink Ladies introduce Sandy to cigarettes and cheap wine in their attempts to educate her in the ways of the world.

All of the Pink Ladies turn in strong and memorable performances. Lyons is marvelous as the cynical, outspoken Betty Rizzo, whose reticence keeps people at arms length. Adams is memorable as Marty, who flaunts her worldliness in the musical number, “Freddy, My Love.” Erardi is appealing as the quirky and optimistic Jan. Eshleman gives an endearing performance as the vulnerable Frenchy, whose modest dreams to attend beauty school even seem beyond her reach.

Danny’s group of friends, Kenickie, (Nick Abbott) Sonny, (Tanner Scot) Roger, (Jonathan Chisolm) and Doody (Stephen Markarian) are far less intimidating than they think. They all deliver strong performances. Markarian has a powerfully strong voice and his rendition of

“Those Magic Changes” is one of the production’s many highlights. Also memorable is the cleverly staged number, “Greased Lightnin’,” enthusiastically delivered by Abbott and the company.

Andrew Tebo, in a dual performance as Vince Fontaine and Teen Angel, gives a stand-out performance. The elaborately staged, “Beauty School Dropout,” sung by Tebo and the company is outrageously funny.

Also very fine in their roles are Betsy Moore as Miss Lynch, whose passions are barely concealed by her authoritarian demeanor, Shannon Gerrity as Patty, a cheerleader and rival for Danny’s affections, and Kyle Moses as Eugene, the class valedictorian and resident nerd. And, another standout in a small role is Barbara Camara as the flamboyant Cha-Cha Degregorio.

Joe C. Klug has made the most of a minimalist set by revealing a screen behind the school lockers on which is projected many patterns and scenes to enhance the action. Josh Hemmo has done a wonderful job with the lighting, creating colorful neon highlights which create a 1950s vibe. Diana Newington and Anna Owen’s diverse costume creations impressively cover every occasion, from the selections of ’50s school attire to the elaborate and authentic prom wear.

On opening night, quite a few of the audience members were dressed in 1950s attire. It was clear they were expecting a fun time, and they were not disappointed. This enjoyable musical entertainment is just the ticket to kick off the holiday season.

“Grease” runs through Dec. 15 at the historic Fallon House in Columbia State Park.

For tickets or more information, go online to www.sierrarep.org, or call (209) 532-3120.

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