Jill Butterfield and Trevor Johnson. Photo by Ken Jacques.The big hype for Grease this year has been in regards to the Broadway revival that recently debuted the two winners from the television show You’re the One That I Want. While some critics complain the new Broadway production misses the comedy of the original – a parody of the cheesy and overly idealized way the 1950s were often depicted – Director Desha Crownover’s production at San Diego Junior Theatre revels in the over-the-top cheesiness, and to great success.

The plot revolves around bad-boy Burger Palace Boy Danny Zuko and new nice girl Sandy Dumbrowski whom he met and romanced at the beach over the summer. When surprised to find himself confronted with her at school, he finds himself wanting to be the nice guy he was at the beach for Sandy, but also wanting to keep his tough-guy persona for his friends. Mix in the relationships between Danny’s friends and the girls of the Pink Ladies, and you’ve got Grease. Of course, you also need to throw in the hit musical score that in this case includes many of the songs from the stage while incorporating a couple that were made just for the mega-hit film version (Stranded at the Drive-In and You’re the One That I Want).

You can kind of see where this show is going from the start with Tony Cucuzzella’s pink, teal, and chrome high school set – less like a real high school from the 50s and more like what you’d find in a circa-1950s “High School Barbie” box. Then you’ve got the goofy school administrative assistant Blanche (a hilarious Erin Petersen with 142 pencils stuck in her hair, stringing little lights around the pencils for prom night) making sure there were no cell phones on in the audience – and no communists. Soon we’re seeing remnants of an even cheesier 1950s parody, Zombie Prom, with Marty wearing a letterman sweater from Enrico Fermi High and, later on, playing black-and-white clips of Junior Theatre’s previous production of Zombie Prom for the drive-in movie scene. Before it’s over, they’ll be juggling furry dice from the rear-view mirror of the dreamed-up racecar Greased Lightning.

The latter is one of the highlights of the show as they pull out all the stops for a big, flashy version of Greased Lightning including a couple of light stands that dazzle (lighting design by Ginger Harris), and featuring a great group of guys who make the number rock led by Phillip Bowen as Kenickie and backed up by a crack band that is on throughout. But nothing is more over the top than the big showstopper, and that comes in the form of the guardian angel who comes down from the “malt shop in the sky” to try to convince high school dropout Frenchy (LaVon Wageman) to go back to high school. Teen Angel Donny Gersonde descends down the stairway, each stair lighting up as he reaches it, as he begins his singular rendition of Beauty School Dropout a la James Brown style – surely one of the most memorable scenes you’re going to see. Donny throw in a few extra words of wisdom when pink-haired Frenchy declines his advice, including “Child, your hair is a hot mess.”

Photo by Ken Jacques.Trevor Johnson is goofily cool as Danny and is joined by Jill Butterfield as Sandy with a terrific voice and some amusing melodrama (like running away from Danny in bursts of crying fits and starts), both of them teaming up for a very film-like version of You’re the One That I Want. The cast includes many of San Diego’s great local talents including Kayla McCulley as Rizzo throwing around Kenickie (his buddies try to boost his ego by shouting, “You can take her!”) and with a strong performance of There Are Worse Things I Could Do, Meryn Beckett and her amazing vocals leading the girls in Freddy My Love, Kevin Barber “Mooning” over Jan (Catie Marron), Jacob Sampson learning how to play the guitar with three chords in Those Magic Changes, a bubbly, baton-happy, and catty Patty Simcox by Maddie White, David Siciliano as a good nerdy Eugene who in one scene pops out of a locker before being pushed quickly back inside, and Catherine Miller as school administrator from hell Miss Lynch who is given to screaming her commands to her rowdy students.

Those rowdy students turn in several fun ensemble numbers, from the previously mentioned Greased Lightning to equally lively performances of Hand Jive and the classic Summer Nights, ending with the song and lyrics that are especially meaningful for the recently graduated students for whom these were the last of the summer nights at Junior Theatre, We Go Together (like ramma lamma lamma ka dinga da dinga dong).

Performs July 27 - August 12, 2007.

Rob Hopper
National Youth Theatre

~ Cast ~
Photo by Ken Jacques.Danny: Trevor Johnson
Sandy: Jill Butterfield
Rizzo: Kayla McCulley
Frenchy: LaVon Wageman
Marty: Meryn Beckett
Jan: Catie Marron
Kenickie: Phillip Bowen
Sonny: John Selby
Doody: Jacob Sampson
Roger: Kevin Barber
Patty Simcox: Maddie White
Cha-Cha: Alicia Wong
Eugene: David Sciciliano
Vince Fontaine: Nate Woods
Johnny Casino: Matthew Maretz
Teen Angel: Donny Gersonde
Miss Lynch: Catherine Miller
Blanche/Voice of Sheila: Erin Petersen

Teen Dance Ensemble:
Trevor Bowles
Kyle Crews
Angela Evers
Julia Karis
Rachel Peterson
Olivia Puckett
Jill Vaughan
Alicia Wong
David Siciliano
Donny Gersonde
Nate Woods

Faculty/Burger Palace Servers:
Alex Dunbar
Jesse Gonzalez
Alexandra Lee
Rachel Liuzzi
Jenna Locke
Krisnoff Sam Padua
Jenna Selby
Sarah White

Teen Ensemble:
Madeleine Barker
Rhea de Armas
Rissa Dickey
Teddy Fantano
Celeste Ferrier
Philip Greenberg
Morgan Hollingsworth
Nicole Jaquez
Alejandra Jimenez
Lauren King
Ryan Luster
Alex Salomon
Sydney Thayer
Matthew Maretz

Johnny Casino's Band:
Morgan Hollingsworth
Teddy Fantano
Ryan Luster
Rachel Liuzzi

Director: Desha Crownover
Choreographer: Holly MacDonald
Music Director: Rhonda Fleming
Set Design: Tony Cucuzzella
Lighting Design: Ginger Harris
Costume Design: Lynn Choplin
Sound Design: Robin Whitehouse
Hair/Make-up Design: Walter Allen
Stage Manager: Veronica Chavez


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