By Dan Hagen
Boy, having already met girl, undergoes the usual complications leading to the customary conclusion in “Grease,” the musical that opens the Little Theatre’s 55th summer season.
So the point is never what happens, but how it happens — specifically the style and energy the performers bring to this venerable vehicle for 1950s nostalgia. Happily, director Millie Garvey and choreographer Zach Gray have supplied plenty of both.
I must admit this has never been my favorite musical. I thought it seemed strangely kind of old hat, even at the time it was created in the year I graduated from high school. I suppose part of my antipathy stems from the movie version, with its bizarrely aged teenagers cavorting around.
But there’s no arguing with a show that has been a crowd pleaser for four decades. And — as has been in the case in the majority of shows the Little Theatre has mounted in the last several years — the productions are so professionally done that you end up liking even shows that you don’t like.
If that makes sense. I don’t know if it does. It’s awfully late as I’m writing this.
On a tall, colorful set composed of vinyl disks and by Courtney Nelson, the Little cast members hurl themselves happily into the proceedings.
I want to say a word for Little veteran Sam Hay here, who often gets the utility roles that don’t generally attract comment (like the juvenile delinquent Sonny), but always tackles them with heart and dazzling ability as a dancer. Any musical would be lucky to have him.
Kelsey Andres, as the vapid and too-cheery cheerleader Patty, is in a similar position, but she too makes more than the most of her role, forcing the audience to feel affection for a character intended merely as a minor figure of fun.
The best stuff? Costumer Timmy Valentine’s over-the-top scissor-headed delights in “Beauty School Dropout;” the giant-haired crooning Teen Angel (Lincoln Ward) in that same number; the back-of-the-auditorium belting of Cary Mitchell in “Mooning;” the baby-faced likeability of Jacob Lacopo in “Those Magic Changes;” the determined nerdiness of Glory Kissel and Jared Titus; the feel-good energy of famous numbers like ‘We Go Together.”
Gray’s best dance number — hands spearing upward and clap-clap-clapping with adolescent kinetic abandon — is “Born to Hand Jive.” It’s infectious and irresistible.
Watching this show, it occurred to me that what we always have here are types rather than characters. The protagonist Danny is Vinnie Barberino crossed with the Fonz. He’s played by the talented Tony Edgerton, who looks like Travolta, but better. As in “The Full Monty,” Edgerton offers a matter-of-fact working-class masculinity and charm, and shines in “Alone At the Drive-In Movie.”
Tiffany Sparks, as the heroine Sandy, gets the most thankless role of all, spending virtually the entire show as a simpering virginal simp. But she’s pretty and she can sing, and so she gamely makes the most of it.
The better roles, though, are the two secondary ones. There’s Kenicke, played by CJ Pawlikowski, a brooding gang member who loves his “Greased Lightning” (how Americans do enjoy singing to their cars) and the emotionally hard, sexually easy Rizzo, played by Sophie Grimm. Pawlikowski and Grimm’s naturalistic acting makes their characters real and recognizable.
My favorite number in the show is Grimm singing her parody of the 1950s sexual kabuki dance, “Look at Me, I’m Sandra Dee.” She also helps turn Sandy from simp to siren with “There Are Worse I Could Do.” As my friend Paul said, it’s a song about the virtue of not having virtue.
Wella, wella, wella, I won’t tell you more. If this is the kind of show you like, you’ll find this particular show an excellent example of its kind. It’s the one that you want. Ooo ooo ooo ooo.
Incidental intelligence: The cast also features Jamie Finkenthal as Jan, Loren J. Connell as Johnny Casino, Ashley Klinger as Frenchie, Rachel LaPorte as Marty and Heather Dore' Johnson as Cha Cha. “Grease” has lighting design by Matt Fick. The music director and artistic director is Joshua Zecher-Ross,
Performances will run June 6-17 and tickets ranging from $37.50 for adults and $35.40 for children under 12 and seniors 62 and over. Tickets for Grease may be purchased by calling The Little Theatre on the Square Box Office at (217)-728-7375 or online at www.thelittletheatre.org.