BWW Review: We Go Together: MSMT and Lewiston's Public Theatre Co-Produce GREASE
Just as the youthful cast sings their exuberant anthem, "We Go Together," at the close of GREASE, so, too, might the theatre-loving communities of Midcoast Maine find new reason to celebrate in the first-ever co-production of Maine State Music Theatre and The Public Theatre. From June 18-30, 2019, the two Equity companies have joined forces to present Jim Jacobs and Warren Casey's beloved classic, in Lewiston in a fresh, new, vibrant production that recaptures all the joy, travails, libido and angst of adolescence.
The co-production represents the first musical mounted on The Public's stage and proves a genuine treat for the combined audiences. Not only does this GREASE use age appropriate actors, but it also benefits from having these young artists all be professionally trained members of MSMT's Educational Fellows Program or other musical theatre programs, and all supremely talented. Directed by Charistopher Schario, who, himself, played Kenickie at the beginning of his career, and choreographed by the inventive Raymond Marc Dumont, the result is an uniquely genuine, energetic, funny, and touching account of the work.
Schario offers a seamless staging and focuses on character development, eliciting from each of these loveable characters detailed performances. Raymond Marc Dumont's choreography is muscular, athletic, filled with high jinx, flashy lifts and gymnastics, at the same tie that it conveys the sheer joie de vivre of the score. His intricate, fast paced "Born to Hand Jive" and finale mix "You Are the One/We Go Together" are rousing highlights.
Music Director Evan Cuddy on piano, accompanied by drums, bass, and guitar, plays the score with conviction in Ben McNaboe's skillful arrangements that make the most of the reduced instrumentation.
The production effectively utilizes the resources of the intimate theatre space. Schario benefits in his staging from the simple, yet evocative set by Jennifer B. Madigan that artfully provides a tiered performance level as well as a place to store and then reveal the large props. Using iconography of the period - 45 records, poodle skirts, poster of James dean to decorate the proscenium, and relying on a subdued pastel blue-pink palette, Madigan creates an ambiance that is attractive, yet credible as a working class high school milieu. Kathleen Payton Brown picks up on this color scheme, adding flashes of brighter hues, especially in the big dance sequences. Lighting Designer Thom Beaulieu (Paul Baribault on lightboard) and sound designer John Morrison complete the look and balance the acoustic effectively. The rest of the technical crew represents the combined forces of both theatres with Mickey Acton as the able Stage Manager (assisted by Katy Albert) and Emily M. Dixon as Technical Director.
The eighteen-member cast ignites the stage with their strong triple threat talents. Tanner Callicutt makes an endearing Danny Zuko - pseudo tough and secretly vulnerable with just the right hint of a swagger that masks teenage insecurities. He shines in "Greased Lightning" and most especially in "Sandy" which becomes a heartfelt, pain-filled monologue. Katie Brnjac is a winsome Sandy, whose steelier mettle lurks just beneath the surface of her conventional good girl aura and which ultimately makes her finale transformation more believable. Vocally, she possesses a big, gleaming soprano, capable of belting her signature number "Hopelessly Devoted to You" with intensity and just that hint of a cry that tugs at the heartstrings.
Robert Avery Wilson makes a rough and tumble Kenickie, using his baritone effectively in "Greased Lightning" and making the most of the character's dramatic moments such as his relief at not actually becoming a father. Alicia Babin is a cool, tough, sexy Rizzo, who belts out "There Are Worse Things I Could Do" with conviction. Nicole Fava is a sweetly ditsy Frenchy; Natalie Nicole Bellamy projects wishful older sophistication as Marty and scores nicely in "Freddie My Love"; Mara Dale is a refreshingly down-to-earth Jan, who pairs with Ben Walker-Dubay's impressively sung/acted Roger for a delightful account of "Mooning."
Liv Nurmi as Patty Simcox and Andrew Carney as Eugene Florcyk make an appropriate nerdy, yet oddly winning pair. Ayanna Stover cuts up the dance floor as a high octane Cha-Cha DiGregorio, while Siobhan Kelley adds her dance and acting skills to the ensemble.
Diego Cortes is a note perfect Sonny; Collins Rush an appealing, vocally sure Doody, and Nicholas Hall almost steals the "Teen Angel" scene with his elegant vocal rendition. As dance captain, Jonathan Bryant opens the show with some dazzling tumbling and later does a showy melodic turn as Johnny Casino. Cameron Wright is an oily Vince Fontaine, while Jane Abernethy adds a humorous gravitas to the procedings as a prim Miss Lynch, who manages to succumb finally to the music and shenanigans at the end.
To watch this deliciously colorful, mismatched band of characters muddle through the adventures, heartbreak, and discovery that define high school adolescence is a pure joy. Not only does GREASE always elicit nostalgia, but, in this production especially, it connects us with the essence of youth and balm of memory. MSMT and The Public Theatre's co-production of GREASE is the perfect summer tonic! Indeed, summer nights promise to be all that much brighter - at least through June 30th!
Photos courtesy of MSMT and The Public Theatre