BWW Reviews: Get On Your Dancing Shoes! GREASE Hits New Canaan
The enduring popularity of Grease is hard to understand. The book by Jim Jacobs and WarRen Casey, who also wrote the music and lyrics, is meh. It is simply not well-written and totally lacks the depth of South Pacific or Ragtime. The references to the big social issues of the time, such as teen pregnancy and gang violence were as sanitized as the stories in Greek mythology and the fairy tales of The Brothers Grimm. Nevertheless, this production at Summer Theatre of New Canaan, directed by Melody Meitrott Libonati, more than makes up for the book's shortcomings.
Melody Libonati was pretty much faithful to the original production. (Some revivals included songs from the movie version.) She opened the show with flashy radio DJ Vince Fontaine (Jason Law. Wearing an animal print smoking jacket, he introduced the audience to the Summer Theatre of New Canaan and to remind people to shut off their phones. He smoothly exited the stage to allow the show to begin.
Everyone knows this story. Sweet, innocent Sandy Dumbrowksi (Sharon Malane) and Danny Zuko (Christian Libonati) are two of the working-class teenagers who are trying to get through Rydell High School and to find someone special. The others are the annoyingly perky Patty Simcox (Grace Harden), nerdy valedictorian Eugene Florczyk (Mike Bloom), Jan (Jennifer Ambler), Marty (Elysia Jordan), Bett Rizzo (Christina Farrugia), Doddy (Ben Simpson), Roger (Matt Spano), Kenickie (Dan Faber), Sonny (Bobby Godas) and Frenchy (Sarah Mullis). Jennie Joefree plays Cha-Cha DiGregoriao, the ace dancer who takes no prisoners. Adam Hill plays Johnny Casino (real name: Clarence) and Teen Angel, and Emile Roberts plays Miss Lynch.
The entire cast turns in solid and heartwarming performances, with Malane stronger as Sandy in the second act. Farrugia gave Rizzo some depth and poignancy in the number, "There Are Worse Things I Could Do." Dan Faber was a perfect match to Farrugia, giving depth as well as boldness to the role of Kenickie, and showing some good dance moves as well. Christian Libonati displayed exceptional showmanship throughout the show, with a bigger than life on-stage personality, terrific voice and highly skilled dancing. Anyone who wags his tongue about nepotism will bite it after seeing him perform. It is doubtful that someone else could have auditioned better for the role of Danny.
You will definitely leave the Summer Theatre of New Canaan rockin' and rollin' because immediately after the play the performers, led by Christian Libonati, pulled members of the audience to dance on stage. No doubt it was deliberate, but it seemed spontaneous, and that was another lovely surprise in this production.
Still, one day I would like to see Grease redone completely fresh, and with the darkness we know cannot be ignored, as Cabaret was redone with Natasha Richardson. But that's not necessarily for summer theatre.
Grease runs through August 11 at the Summer Theatre of New Canaan, on the beautiful sprawling campus of New Canaan High School. 11 Farm Road, New Canaan. Check the calendar on the website for dates and times. You can still see other shows on weekend! For tickets, call 203-966-4634 or visit www.stonc.org.