Summer Night Had Me a Blast with Grease at Fort Salem Theater

It’s 1959 at Rydell High School and the Greasers are running through the halls of the venerable old high school. The whole gang is there, getting ready to take us along on their last year in school. The Burger Palace Boys, the cool boy group, and their female counterparts the Pink Ladies gather in the cafeteria to talk about their summer and what lies ahead. Womanizing Danny Zuko regales his friends with stories of the girl he met this summer at the beach. Meanwhile, across the room, the Pink Ladies are introduced to Sandy Dumbroski, new friend and neighbor of Frenchy who has just transferred into Rydell. She shares her story of a boy she met this summer at the beach.

It is obvious that the two are telling the same story, but their memories don’t particularly match up. When Grease, written by Jim Jacobs and Warren Casey, was first produced on Broadway in 1972 it was raunchy, sexy, and spoke about teen pregnancy, peer pressure, class distinctions, teen rebellion and sexual exploration.

Fort Salem presents a somewhat sanitized version, but nevertheless, the messages are clear. Grease under the direction of Executive and Artistic Director, Kyle West, moves this large cast across the somewhat restrictive-sized stage with as much grace and flow as possible. Where this cast of young performers clearly shines is vocally, many are new to the stage and that comes across in their movement. There emits a certain self-consciousness as they dance their way through the musical numbers. Whether it’s broadcast on their faces or through their stilted movements, one thing that can be said, is they are all giving it their best shot and enjoying themselves immensely.

The cast is stacked with an enormous amount of vocal talent. This is where the production shines. The company numbers fill the theater, the solo numbers pull the audience in. Noah Casner’s Magic Changes, where he primarily accompanies himself, gives us a tender moment that is captivating. Sarah Zweighaft’s Freddy My Love about her boyfriend who joined the Marines is funny; her voice once again is a production stand-out. The classic Greased Lightnin” led by Michael Razzano as Kenickie and backed by the Burger Palace Boys about the re-imagining of the broken down car he has purchased into a real “stud mobile” is certainly a first act highlight.

This production has had the opportunity to incorporate some of the music from the 1978 film version that starred John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John. While it is fun to relieve some of the movie moments – I am, by nature, more of a purist and feel that if you are familiar with the stage production the film songs tend to detract a bit as they do not fit in as seamlessly with the original music.

The cast shines whenever they have the opportunity to sing, which is the majority of the show. Gideon Ethridge as Danny Zuko and Regan Zlotnick as Sandy Dumbroski are outstanding. They move on the stage with ease, the acting is believable and their voices are a pleasure to listen to. Kudos to Siri Allison, as Miss Lynch, the old maid teacher everyone loves to hate. Her comic timing makes her a joy to watch.

Traditionally, the role of Teen Angel, the imagined “Fairy God Father” of Frenchy, comes to her after she has left high school and then flunked out of beauty school. He arrives to tell her she is basically a failure and needs to return to high school. The role is normally played as a characterization of Elvis, usually in a jumpsuit, dark glasses, and swiveling his hips as he imparts his wisdom. For whatever reason, West has chosen to go an alternate route with his imagination of the character and it does not play as well as it should. It is one of few numbers that has a built-in encore, an encore that the audience should clamber for. Sadly, this Teen Angel does not compel that audience’s reaction. It is a shame as Dan Costello, no stranger to the Fort Salem stage has a dynamic voice and his talent is somewhat wasted here. Costello plays dual work as slick crooner Johnny Casino and we have the chance to catch a glimmer of what he is truly capable of.

John Norine Jr.’s music direction is again outstanding. He leads the group of two dozen through some wonderful musical moments along with the accompaniment of a five-piece band stationed above the action on the stage.

When all is said and done, while this production of Grease may not earn straight A’s, it gives the audience two-plus hours of fun, escape and if the packed house at last Friday’s performance is any indication, Grease is clearly the word and should not be missed. It certainly is a great way to spend your Summer Nights.

Grease plays through July 3. tickets range from $25-36. For more information: or call 518-854-9200.

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