A number of imaginative directorial touches and a fresh young cast of up-and-coming triple-threats make Inland Valley Repertory Theatre’s midweek revival of Grease at Candlelight Dinner Theatre worth a drive out to Claremont even if you’ve seen the musical or its smash movie adaptation umpteen times before.
• Danny (Scott Arnold), undisputed leader of the Burger Palace Boys and the coolest, hottest hotshot at Rydell High, and Sandy (Winter Bassett), wholesome girl-next-door transfer student, whose first on-campus encounter with Danny leads her to believe that their recent romance may have been a case of “summer loving” and nothing more.
• Kenicke (Aaron McKinley Lyons), Danny’s smart-alecky sidekick; Doody (Justin Budds), the hero-worshiping youngest of the Burger Boys; Sonny (Colin Campbell), the gang’s resident Italian Wise Guy and self-described lady-killer; and Roger (Greg Hardash), Rydell class clown nicknamed “Rump” for his habit of “Mooning” on a Saturday night.
• Betty Rizzo, aka Rizzo (Lindsey Kay Carlson), Rydell’s baddest bad girl, Kenicke’s steady, and the Pink Ladys’ undisputed leader; Frenchy (Renna Nightingale), Rydell High and Beauty School dropout, who naively assumes she got her nickname by “French inhaling” cigarette smoke; Marty (Amanda Minano), the Pink Ladies’ resident glamour girl with a thing for older men like sleazy radio DJ Vince Fontaine (Stanton Kane Morales); and Jan (Laura De Lano), the cuddliest—and most excitable—Pink Lady at Rydell High.
Completing the Rydell student body are easily hoodwinked nerd Eugene Florczyk (Bobby Collins) and overachieving cheerleader Patty Simcox (Lindsey Conway), with English teacher Miss Lynch (DawnEllen Ferry) and the school’s principal (Cindy Smith) and coach (Mark Mackenzie) representing the Rydell High adults.
Not to be forgotten are Cha-Cha Gregorio (Kristina Leopold), the muy caliente dance champ at rival Catholic high school St. Bernadette’s; Teen Angel (Todd Vigiletti), who pops into Frenchy’s dreams to serenade her with “Beauty School are Dropout”; and Born-To-Hand-Jive (Baby) Johnny Casino (James Ellis).
One of director Minano’s most inspired decisions was to up the cast size considerably, giving us not just the musical’s ten lead guys and gals but assorted classmates (Jacob Cerda, Maiah De La Cruz, Matthew Edgerton, Jessica Gerhart, Jessica Guerrero, and Janeth Shayo) and school faculty (Candace Elder, Joan Molinaro, Tom Molinaro, Maggie Riehn, Walt Schaefer, Richard Simpson, Ann Thomas, and Duane Thomas), the latter of whom open the show High School Reunion style as Class Of ’59 kids grown into senior citizenship, the result of which is a Grease that feels like it’s really taking place in a fully-peopled 1950s high school.
Like all IVRT shows, Grease is performed on the set of the current Candlelight Pavilion Dinner Theatre production, albeit modified to fit IVRT’s needs, and Grease could not have asked for a more perfectly adaptable set than the one being used for Buddy – The Buddy Holly Story. Not only does the set, ingeniously modified by Mackenzie, look a whole lot pizzazzier than the traditional (and rather dull) scenic design I’ve seen rented for at least one other production, but it passes niftily for school hallway walls and doors, one of its upstairs corners lighting up to become Sandy’s bedroom and, niftier still, Buddy Holly’s second-floor radio station couldn’t be more ideal for Vince Fontaine’s on-the-air digs. Downstairs panels open to reveal various surprises, including none other than Greased Lightning herself, and Daniel Moorefield’s lighting design makes both set and Jamie Brown’s terrific period costumes look even more colorful. It’s pretty cool, too, that director Minano has set “Those Magic Changes” Glee-style in Rydell’s music classroom, and that he has transformed “It’s Raining On Prom Night” into a duet between Bassett’s Sandy and prom soloist Guerrero.
Kim Eberhart’s choreography is as high-school-high-energy as can be (and dynamically performed by Grease’s young ensemble), with one crowd-pleasing production number after another, including the now iconic “We Go Together,” “Greased Lighting,” “Born To Hand Jive,” and the movie’s “You’re The One That I Want,” all of which are even more exciting with a stageful of singer-dancers instead of the usual ten or so.
The entire cast gets high marks for talent, charisma, and fifties flair, in particular standout newcomers Arnold and Carlson, along with their fellow triple-threats Bassett, Budds, Campbell, De Lano, Hardash, Lyons, Minano, and Nightingale. Collins, Conway, and a cha-cha-rrific Leopold offer particularly delightful support, while Morales proves himself quite the chameleon following his recent star turn as Georg in Chance Theater’s She Loves Me.
Still, it’s all in good fun, with musical director Ronda Rubio and her live band getting the Candlelight Pavilion rocking to Grease classics which also include “Summer Nights,” “Freddy, My Love,” “Mooning,” “Look At Me, I’m Sandra Dee,” “Alone At A Drive-In Movie,” “Rock n’ Roll Party Queen,” and “There Are Worse Things I Could Do” (a Carlson showcase). In addition, sound designer Nick Galvan gets top marks for expert mixing of instrumentals and miked vocals.
Hope Kaufman is assistant director. Props are by cast member Smith. Jessica Curry is assistant costume designer, Garrett Freeman is wig designer, and Karen Reed is hair stylist. Mary McCord is dresser and Kyle Burke, Anthony Nuno, and Katherine Minano are crew.
Ken Martinez doubles as stage manager and Radio Announcer.
Grease follows in the singing-dancing footsteps of previous Inland Valley Repertory Theater Broadway revivals of Hairspray, Cabaret, Chicago, and last year’s Gypsy quite crowd-pleasingly indeed. It is one of IVRT’s best.
Inland Valley Repertory Theater, Candlelight Pavilion, 455 West Foothill Boulevard, Claremont.
February 4, 2105