Cast members of “Grease” dance across the stage at The Public Theatre during a recent performance. The show is a joint production between TPT and Maine State Music Theatre. The Public Theatre courtesy photo

If you have seen “Grease — The Movie,” good for you! But do yourself a favor — get tickets now to see the Maine State Music Theatre’s and The Public Theater’s outstanding collaborative production of “Grease – The Musical.”
You wouldn’t pass up a favorite meal just because you have had it before, would you?!

And, if you haven’t seen “Grease,” don’t lose heart and don’t miss this opportunity to have a delicious experience for the first time.

The year 1959 comes to life with eye popping performances, breathtaking choreography and top notch music through the lens of the “cool” greaser cliques at Rydell High School. Non-stop songs stitch together a story of teen angst, yearning, rebellion and heartache.

“Grease” revisits the days when getting a car meant getting a girl, where teachers were feared, AM rock and roll radio stations and .45 records ruled the airwaves and hanging out and cruisin’ were idyllic teen pursuits.

We are first introduced to the Rydell High Class of 1959 in a clever parody of the school’s “Alma Mater” sung by the Pink Ladies (pony-tailed, pedal-pushered and permed) and the Burger Palace Boys (black jacketed, blue-jeaned and Wildroot Cream Oiled).

The music is so essential to the play and typical of the 1950s, that the early number, “Those Magic Changes,” instructively and humorously reminds us that the teen ballads of the times were largely composed using the chord changes C-Am-F-G. True to that musical homage many of the show’s songs sustain that format. An excellent live quartet meticulously supports the outstanding vocal renditions of the more than a dozen songs that follow.

At first glance one might assess that the stage is too small to accommodate the large ensemble cast; but surprisingly the choreography dispels that notion. One is left only to marvel at the dancing talent of this troupe as they seem magically to expand the tiered stage with dizzying precision and energy.

Splendid use of the space is well-defined as scenes flow one to another using spotlighting emphasis and instant freeze frame swings. Ingenious and bright props as well as swift set changes keep things rolling at a fast pace. So much is packed into this production it may be the fastest two hours one is likely to experience.

The primary cast members shine in respective solos and duets. The male performers delight with strong voices and impressive rock and roll falsettos that rival Frankie Valli. Danny Zuko (Tanner Callicutt) in “Sandy,” and Roger (Ben-Walker Dubay) in “Mooning” channel the exciting heartthrob voices of yesteryear.

And Teen Angel (Nicholas Hall) in ”Beauty School Dropout” performs in a dazzling number replete with glittering Busby Berkeley showgirls.

The ladies project strength and vulnerability with vocal renditions of songs such as: “Freddy My Love,” Natalie Bellamy as Marty; “Look at Me, I’m Sandra Dee” and “There Are Worse Things I Could Do,” Alicia Babin as Rizzo; and “It’s Raining On Prom Night”and “Look At Me, I’m Sandra Dee (Reprise)” (Katie Brnjac as Sandy).

The mischief of smoking on school grounds, stealing hubcaps, bragging about doubtful sexual conquests and apprehension over a possible “rumble” are reinforcement of the macho veneer of the Burger Palace Boys.

Slumber parties, chasing boys, stolen Italian Swiss Colony wine and clandestine cigarettes characterize the femme fatale wannabes who dream of Teen Magazine heartthrobs like Fabian and Ricky Nelson.

Wonderful 50s cultural references — from a Drive–In Movie “creature feature” to shopping at Robert Hall — are scattered throughout and will amuse not only those who are old enough to have lived them.

The high school prom scene puts the “Hand Jive” dance contest center stage in another spectacular dance number.
The “Break Up – Make Up” refrain of adolescent love is the driving premise of this romance with a slight twist. Many films of the ’50s relied on the tried and true plot of the rebel alpha male being converted by the virtuous female. But “Grease” turns that plot on its head; we find Danny Zuko, conflicted about his relationship to Sandy Dumbrowski. Having met her at the beach in a “Summer Love” fling the prior summer, he is taken aback when she unexpectedly arrives at Rydell as a transfer student. To protect his “cool” reputation with his peers, he reacts badly to encountering Sandy again. After making a somewhat feeble attempt to recast himself as a school “jock,” he reverts to his old greaser self. Here instead, Sandy Dumbrowski decides to reclaim Danny’s heart. She ultimately and stunningly transforms herself from the inexperienced “good girl” into the fantasy woman of Danny’s dreams. This also finally gains her acceptance by The Pink Ladies.

The finale, once again featuring the excellent ensemble cast, rounds out a rollicking, rowdy evening of musical theater with the hit song, “You’re The One That I Want.”

The cast and costumes come from Maine State Music Theatre to The Public Theater in this superb collaboration, directed by Christopher Schario with choreography by Raymond Marc Dumont. Many of the cast members hail from all points of the compass as interns in MSMT’s Educational Fellowship Program. Several others have roots in Maine and community theater.

Tanner Callicutt, a recent graduate from Elon University, plays the lead role of Danny Zuko. Callicutt has played Tony in “West Side Story” at the New Bedford Festival Theatre and Link Larkin in “Hairspray” at Surflight Theatre and Laguna Playhouse.

Katie Brnjac, whose credits include Violet in “Alice in Wonderland” at Stages St. Louis, plays Sandy Dumbrowski.
Interns from the fellowship program include: Alicia Babin, Rizzo; Jonathan Bryant, Johnny Casino; Diego Cortes, Sonny; Nicole Fava, Frenchy; Liv Nurmi, Patty Simcox; Collins Rush, Doody; and Robert Avery Wilson, Kenickie. Natalie Bellamy, a former MSMT intern, 2017, plays Marty.

Local actors round out the cast with Andrew Carney of Gorham, Eugene; Mara Dale of Portland, Jan; Nicholas Hall of South Berwick, Teen Angel; Ayanna Stover of Wiscasset, Cha-Cha; Ben Walker-Dubay of Kennebunkport, Roger; Cameron Wright of Yarmouth, Vince Fontaine; and Jane Abernethy of Brunswick, Miss Lynch. Siobhan Kelley of Portland is ensemble and understudies the female roles.

The creative production team also includes Evan Cuddy, music director; Jennifer Madigan, scenic designer; Kathleen Brown, costume designer; Thom Beaulieu, lighting designer; and John Morrison, sound designer.

Opening last Tuesday to a sold out audience, “Grease” is sure to be the hottest ticket in town for its remaining run. Performances will take place June 20–30 at The Public Theatre, 31 Maple St., Lewiston, at 7:30 p.m. Thursday–Saturday, 2 p.m., 2 p.m. Sunday and a matinee on Wednesday, June 26, also at 2.

Maine State Music Theatre and The Public Theatre’s collaborative, musical production of “Grease” is showing at the Public Theatre in Lewiston through June 30. The Public Theatre courtesy photo

 

*It’s such a hot ticket, in fact, that two more performances have been added to the schedule. There will be a 3 p.m. matinee on Saturday, June 29, and a 7 p.m. performance on Sunday, June 30.


Comments are not available on this story.