Grease is the word down Escondido way, and will be through the end of July as Escondido’s Welk Theatre presents their all-around terrific revival of the 3,388-performance Broadway megahit Grease.

2 Here’s a quick refresher course on Grease’s now iconic cast of characters as created by book, music, and lyric writers Jim Jacobs and Warren Casey:

• Danny (Nick Adorno), undisputed leader of the Burger Palace Boys and the coolest, hottest hotshot at Rydell High.

• Sandy (Rachel Davis), wholesome girl-next-door transfer student, whose first on-campus encounter with Danny leads her to believe that that their recent romance may have been a case of “summer loving” and nothing more.

4 • Kenicke (Lucas Coleman), Danny’s smart-alecky sidekick; Doody (Jake Saenz), the hero-worshiping youngest of the Burger Boys; Sonny (Ariel Neydavoud), the gang’s resident Italian Wise Guy and self-described lady-killer; and Roger (Will Huse), Rydell class clown nicknamed “Rump” for his habit of “Mooning” on a Saturday night.

• Betty Rizzo, aka Rizzo (Yvonne), Rydell’s baddest bad girl, Kenicke’s steady, and the Pink Ladys’ undisputed leader; Frenchy (Allyson Spiegelman), Rydell High and Beauty School dropout, who naively assumes she got her nickname by “French inhaling” cigarette smoke; Marty (April Henry), the Pink Ladies’ resident glamour girl with a thing for older men like sleazy radio DJ Vince Fontaine (Rex Smith); and Jan (Bethany Slomka), the cutest, cuddliest, and most easily excitable Pink Lady at Rydell High.

Completing the Rydell student body are easily hoodwinked nerd Eugene Florczyk (Jonathan Sangster) and overachieving cheerleader Patty Simcox (Bailey Sonner), with English teacher Miss Lynch (Sue Boland) representing the Rydell High adults. And not to be forgotten are Cha-Cha Gregorio (Giovanna Badagliacco-Cabrera), loud-mouthed dance champ at rival Catholic high school St. Bernadette’s, and Teen Angel (Smith again), who pops into Frenchy’s dreams to serenade her with “Beauty School are Dropout.” (Johnny Casino, Rydell High’s resident Link Larkin, ends up on the cutting room floor this time round.)

9 Director-choreographer Ray Limon clearly knows his Grease every bit as well as he did last January’s Anything Goes, and with the 330-seat Welk Theatre just the right size for the musical’s ten lead guys and gals, this is one time that (other than poor Johnny) audiences won’t feel there’s been any “scaling down” to fit the Welk. Limon’s direction is spot-on and his choreography exciting, high-energy, and tons of fun.

Teen idol-handsome Adorno and girl-next-door pretty Davis make for as engaging a Danny-and-Sandy as any Grease fan could wish for, and their sidekicks do fabulous work as well. Coleman’s tough-guy/softie Kenickie, Saenz’s boyishly charming Doody, Huse’s goofy, impish Roger, and Neydavoud’s self-proclaimed ladies’ man Sonny, are matched by Yvonne’s smart-talking, statuesque Betty, Spiegelman’s dim-but-cute bulb Frenchy, Henry’s fire-cracker of a Marty, and Slomka’s adorably excitable Jan, all ten of them the very definition of up-and-coming triple-threats. Sonner, Sangster, and Badagliacco-Cabrera provide delightful comedic support, as does an appropriately starchy Boland as Miss Lynch.

Completing the cast is 1970s teen-idol (and Broadway’s Pirates Of Penzance’s original Frederic) Smith appearing as both Vince and Teen Angel, along with providing pre-show interactive entertainment as DJ Vince and promoting his concurrently running Confessions of A Teen Idol: A Musical Autobiography while giving away Rex Smith CDs to trivia-savvy audience members.

Grease movie fans won’t be hearing either “Grease” or “Hopelessly Devoted To You,” added to the 2007 Broadway revival but not part of the licensed 1972 version, though Limon and the Welk have had the smarts to acquire the rights to John Farrar’s “You’re The One That I Want,” an investment-worthy addition that pays off with audience recognition and cheers.

Older, more traditional theatergoers (and parents of pre-teens) can take comfort that Grease’s usual PG-13 mix of sexual innuendo, teen smoking and drinking, language, and “rude” gestures is a more kid-friendly PG at the Welk. (It always did seem a bit too much raunch for me in a show as sweet-hearted and good-natured as Grease.)

3 Musical director Justin Gray and his pit orchestra (Gray on piano, Vince Cooper on guitar, Mark Margolies on reeds, and Mike Masessa on drums/percussion) get the Welk rocking to Grease classics “Summer Nights,” “Those Magic Changes,” “Freddy, My Love,” “Greased Lightnin’,” “Mooning,” “Look At Me, I’m Sandra Dee,” “We Go Togther,” “It’s Raining On Prom Night,” “Born To Hand Jive,” “Beauty School Dropout,” “Alone At A Drive-In Movie,” “Rock n’ Roll Party Queen,” “There Are Worse Things I Could Do,” and “All Choked Up.” (Is there any Grease song that hasn’t become a standard?)

Scenic designer/builder Mark Willis Raymondo’s set is simple but glitzy when need be, and features Grease’s trademark ‘50s snapshots and some great videos. Jennifer Edwards’ lighting and Patrick Hoyny’s sound designs are both first-rate. Best of all are Sharell Martin’s sensational ‘50s costumes, provided by The Theatre Company, Upland, and FCLO, Fullerton.

Grease is produced by Joshua Carr.

1 Sandwiched between great-big Broadway extravaganzas Anything Goes and Oklahoma!, Grease provides just-right summer entertainment for folks south of L.A. and Orange Counties. Whether you’re well in your 70s (the age all these Grease-teens would be in 2014) or still a teenager (either chronologically or at heart), Grease at the Welk is 1950s nostalgia at its most crowd-pleasing.

The Welk Theater, 8860 Lawrence Welk Dr, Escondido.

–Steven Stanley
May 17, 2014
Photos: Ken Jacques Photography

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