Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Theatrical Review: Grease

Book, Music, and Lyrics by: Jim Jacobs and Warren Casey
Directed by: Jason J. Zimmer*
Theatrical Review by: Paul Adam Smeltz

The Sherman Theatre* in Stroudsburg, PA presented The Pocono Lively Arts* production of “Grease” by Jim Jacobs and Warren Casey which has been watered down considerably from its original Broadway Production to meet the moral standards of school boards and parents in communities in which it is presented. As a result, the play is a bit shorter than its original performance as much of the language and subject matter is deleted from the script. However, some of this time is regained by including songs added to the subsequent film which starred Olivia Newton John and John Travolta.

The play takes place in the 1950s as it evolves around the relationship between a greaser and gang member Danny Zuko (as portrayed by Patrick Murphy*) and a “Good Girl” Sandy “D” Dumbrowski (as portrayed by Brianna Storm). It’s yet another “updated” version of Romeo and Juliet which capitalized on the nostalgia craze for everything 50s during the 1970s. The play served more to capitalize on the nostalgia than it did to present a compelling story or commentary on our times be exploring the past.

As in Romeo and Juliet, Danny and Sandra D find their love facing obstacles inhibiting them from expressing it fully. It is their standings in their perspective groups that keeps them at a distance. Both begin to loosen the ties which divided them, but Danny soon succumbs to his need for approval of his peers forcing Sandy to make a more complete transformation to win the heart of the one that she wants. It is in this change does she discovers an ability to live her life more fully as she discards her former inhibitions. Danny remains tied to his life as a greaser but it would take several generations until men began to see how trapped they were in their need to fit the image they caged themselves into.

The Pocono Lively Arts* production of “Grease” had several good moments in an otherwise mediocre presentation. It’s unfortunate The Pocono Lively Arts* has reverted back to the people pleasing productions it seemed willing to forgo in favor of plays having something meaningful to say without being overly concerned with how it would be received by the parents of the cast. It is sincerely hoped this “Young Performer’s Version” will be among the last of such productions making way for some truly thoughtful theatrical experiences. The Pocono Lively Arts* has already done so with their production of “Cabaret” and this reviewer hopes they will soon endeavor do present similar productions again.

The large cast were well met by the audience of their family and peers, but I found come of the acting a bit uneven. The production held some wonderful performances by much if its cast but, there were many instances when the reaction to a line or movement came before the action. This goes against the theatrical credo which states, “Acting is re acting” as it gives away the anticipatory aspects of the play and distracts from its full enjoyment.

Along with Patrick Murphy and Brianna Storm, the cast of “Grease” included Juliet Carasquillo* as Rizzo whose street smarts serves her well in almost all the decisions in her young life, Ryan McDermott* as Kenckie, Felicia Marie Mule as Frenchy who dreams of being a beautician, Brandon Hanks as Roger, Ashley Lopez* as Jan, Thomas Foley (who also served as the Student Vocal harmony Leader) as Doody, Jessica Lomasson as Marty, Cody James Smith as Sonny Latierri, Katie Kaiser (who also served as the Dance Captain) as Patty Simcox the highly energetic Cheerleader, Joseph Ambrosia (who also served as the Student Production Manager) as Eugene, Shelly Snapp* (who also served as Student Choreographer) as Cha Cha DiGregorio the non student who is brought to help win a dance competition, Brian Foley* (who also served as the Choreographer) as the Teen Angel who descends upon Frenchy, Michael Catrillo as Vince Fontain who is the local DJ Celebrity and host of the High School Dance Contest while seeking a prize of his own from the female student body, and Jeanna Maldonado as Miss. Lynch. The ensemble of additional actors and dancers consisted of Brittney Cohen, Matthew Catrillo, Faith Rivera, Brian Gilbert, Kaitlin Tackels, Matthew Shukaitis, Amber Ziegenfus, and DeJuan Thompson (who also served as the Student Musical Director).

Musicians for the production consisted of the Musical Director and Orchestra Conductor Ruth Kochera on piano, Chad Diehl on Bass, Beth Faulstick* on drums, Luke Heller on Guitar along with Erin Schaller, Sarah Kate Veety, and Jessica Murphy on Saxaphone. Rehearsal Accompanist included Jenny Collins and Pauline Fox.

“Grease” by Jim Jacobs and Warren Casey was Directed by Jason J. Zimmer* (who also designed the set along with Michael Eyth) while Mary Ellen Van Camp served as Stage Manager with Kim Van Camp as the Assistant Stage Manager. The Production Manager was Heather Dean* while the Costume Designer was Missy Benefield*. The Sound designer was Glenn Kern while Dave Dougherty* Designed the lighting with Matt Pierson* and Eric Dwyer assisting. Numerous others were part of the set construction, stage crew, and other aspects ot the production. The house was managed by Eerilee Snuffer and was ushered by Volunteers of The Pocono Lively Arts* and The Sherman Theatre*.

This production of “Grease” proved to be good theatrical experience if one can put aside their memories of the original Broadway production before it succumbed to those who seek parental approval for what they do. It’s a bit ironic one of the themes of the play is how Sandy D can live a fuller life by breaking away from a safe and “Family Friendly” existence to only be presented in a watered down version who embraces such restrictions. The brief run of the July 25th - 27th performances is completed. and the next Pocono Lively Arts* production will be “Seussical” to be performed at The Sherman Theatre* in Stroudsburg, PA November 21st - 23rd. Please contact The Sherman Theatre* at 570-420-2808 or visit their website for more information and to reserve your ticket. More information on The Pocono Lively Arts* can be gained by visiting their website at www.poconolivelyarts.org.

(*) denotes members of The Forwardian Arts Society in good standing and are considered Our Good Friends.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

please use spell-check.