BWW Reviews: Encore Dinner Theatre Offers a Movin' and Groovin' GREASE

Grease/book, lyrics and music by Jim Jacobs and WarRen Casey/directed by Michael Lopez/Encore Dinner Theatre, Tustin/through March 1

When Grease first premiered on Broadway in 1972, it was considered raunchy and raucous due to its adult subject matter of sexual intimacy between teens, teen pregnancy and gang violence. As a result, most productions since have tamed down considerably, placing the most emphasis on the loveable rock and roll score and broadening the comedic moments to the point of uber silliness. Makes total sense, as 1959 provided some silly pop cultural elements, clearly displayed in its outrageous clothes and hairdos, toys like the hoola hoop, crazed dance steps and enjoyably wild rock and roll lyrics. There's little to no plot in the overall show; it's the characters who have layers, but many miss that point and dismiss Grease as a nothing musical. Encore's new production, directed with terrific TLC by Michael Lopez, hits the mark for its intimacy - you can really get to like the characters and appreciate their foibles - fast-moving, hand-slapping choreography and overall goofy appeal handled deliciously by a bright and enthusiastic cast.

Place: fictitious Rydell High. Time: 1959. Teens: The Burger Palace Boys (changed to T Birds in a later revival) and the Pink Ladies. Danny Zuko (Andrew Taula) falls for newcomer Sandy Dumbrowski (Nicola Barrett). Old couples persist like Betty Rizzo (Brenda Castillo) and Kenickie (Joseph Ott), or Roger (Jared Kaitz) and Jan (Melissa Sakrisson). It isn't true love; for teens with raging hormones, it's sex and hot rods. Fast times! Nothing slow here. To live up to that, Jim Jacobs and WarRen Casey have composed some nifty tunes such as "Greased Lightnin'", "Born to Hand-Jive", "We Go Together" and "Shakin' at the High School Hop". Maureen Russell serves well as vocal director and director/choreographer Lopez brings the space to vibrant life, creating some big production numbers in authentic period style. Use of the cast in the audience works well in most segments except when Barrett is on stage right holding her teddy bear. There seems to be a mic problem here.

The entire ensemble are a delight: everyone is working hard up there. Taula sings and moves nicely making Danny a hot sexy commodity and Barrett is sweet and adorable, but was struck with flu right before opening which has taken some toll on her voice. With a little rest this week between performances, her "Look at Me, I'm Sandra Dee" and "Hopelessly Devoted to You" will rock. Castillo steals the hour with her slick, savy Rizzo. Her "There Are Worse Things I Could Do" is a standout. Also fine is Ott as Kenickie; Sakrisson makes Jan stand apart as a genuine jolly, good-natured character; Angele Lathrop makes a savy Marty; Leah Trank an exuberant, though confused Frenchy; Andrew Manzani has a ball as Doody, as does Michelle Anderson as crazed whiny cheerleader Patty; tall, wiry Chase Evans is very funny as nerd Eugene; Jennifer Bales makes a saucy Cha-Cha, and Ishmon Brown rocks the house as Teen Angel with "Beauty School Dropout".Greg Nicholas makes a lascivious Vince Fontaine and Dawn Vasco is appropriately stern or groovy as Miss Lynch, depending on the time and place. Drew Boudreau completes the great cast as Sonny.

Jenny Senior does a lovely job with period costumes and EuGene McDonald has designed an efficient set which serves the dinner theatre stage just right. If you like the music of the era, then Grease is the one, without a doubt! It's fun, fun-loving, and if you let yourself go just a little, you will find yourself movin' and groovin' to the delightful score.

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As always the cuisine is elegant gourmet food from the kitchen of Chef Christophe Jardillier. My four course meal consisted of a juicy filet mignon as entree, preceded by a classic caesar salad. As appetizer, I chose the rich and creamy lobster bisque soup with baguette. For dessert, a lusicous slice of smooth creamy lemon cake! My friends raved about the Asian Black Pepper Shrimp and the Beef Brisket Sauerbraten. There is a large selection of wines and other alcoholic beverages including specialty drinks for the show. The service is commendably quick and oh so friendly. Bravo to Encore for a brilliant two act evening of delicious food and great entertainment!

(photo credit: Stan Mazin)

left to right: Nicola Barrett, Andrew Taula

left to right: Melissa Sakrisson, Jared Kaitz

left to right: Angele Lathrop, Drew Boudreau

left to right: Andrew Manzani, Leah Trank

left to right: Chase Evans, Michelle Anderson

left to right: Brenda Castillo, Joseph Ott

left to right: Brenda Castillo, Andrew Taula

left to right: Dawn Vasco, Greg Nicholas

left to right: Ishmon Brown, Jenniifer Bales

left to right: Ishmon Brown, Jennifer Bales

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From This Author Don Grigware

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