By Dale King
For a rock ‘n’ roll good time, Grease is still the word.
Delray Beach Playhouse has thrown open the doors of Rydell High School, circa 1959, for a mid-summer theatrical stint powered with teen-generated energy that shakes the rafters of the venerable playhouse on the east shore of Lake Ida.
With book, music and lyrics by Jim Jacobs and Warren Casey, Grease revives the late 1950s by populating Rydell High with a group of leather-jacketed guys called the “T-Birds” and their gum-snapping, hip-shaking “Pink Ladies” in bobby sox and pedal pushers. The dialogue is a bit sexualized and slangy, peppered with phrases that seem a little dated by current standards. But the overall presentation overcomes the time difference.
The music and cast voices are excellent throughout, helping to make the performance a standout. Songs cover a gamut from rock to ballad, with some melodies requiring lots of fancy dance steps.
Grease, a 1971 show based largely on the less-than-desirable goings-on at a Chicago high school, hit Broadway a year later in a rewritten, less vulgar and less Chi-town manner. It received seven Tony Award nominations, including one for Best Musical, and begat a 1978 film starring John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John.
The two lead actors in the Delray production are Michael Materdomini as hot-rodder Danny Zuko, a sometimes naughty, sometimes nice kid filled with ideas and indecision, and sweet “new girl in town” Sandy Dumbrowski (Hannah Hayley), who nails that role with a loving heart that beats fast for Danny. The pair work well together, fueling a fast-paced production that has already sold out the first few shows – including opening night.
Others in the 17-member ensemble include Kimberly Harvey, excellent as Rizzo, a brash, tough-talking student with no fear of her classmates; Daniel Distasio as Kenickie, a triple threat with commendable acting, vocal and dancing skills and Bruce Laron Melton, who camps things up as Vince Fontaine, the DJ, and Teen Angel, who arrives from the nether world to help Frenchy (Sophia Jacovitz) decide whether or not to stay in school.
It turns out that Danny and Sandy have met before, parting ways after a summer romance. They bump into each other unexpectedly at Rydell High. Sandy still wants a romance with Danny, but her goodie two-shoes behavior isn’t Danny’s cup of tea. And she can’t stave off the openly sexual conduct from the other girls. (“Look at me, I’m Sandra Dee,” Rizzo sings to mock Sandy).
Danny is undecided, but he can’t walk away from his longing for his would-be girlfriend — as he admits in the haunting ballad, “Sandy.”
Grease focuses on all the things that are part of the teen experience, then and now: dating, being popular, experiencing first love, wondering about the unknown future, fitting in and, of course, the sexual awakening that accompanies puberty.
The success of this Delray Beach Playhouse summertime romp can largely be found at the top. Suzanne Dunn, an experienced and respected actress and director, helms the production with sufficient control to keep the high-octane performance in check.
Well-known keyboardist and actor Michael Ursua fronts a live musical group that provides just the right accompaniment. Fellow musicians include Nick Trotogott on drums and percussion, Greg Minnick on electric guitar, Chris Patsis on electric bass and Rochelle Frederick on tenor saxophone.
Award-winning choreographer Jeannie Krouch keeps the footwork in step with an assist from dance captain Kalista Curbelo. The sets and costumes are top-notch, the fine work of a tech crew too numerous to name, but deserving plaudits.