kate west review
book, music & lyrics by Jim Jacobs &
directed & choreographed by Roger Castellano
at the Fullerton
Civic Light Opera, Plummer Auditorium, 201 E. Chapman, Fullerton, CA
(714) 873-1732 or (714) 526-3832 or www.fclo.com
(Box office address: 218
W. Commonwealth Avenue, Fullerton, CA 92832)
running through May 2006; tickets
$25 to $49 (group rates available)
of us are familiar with the cult 1978 film "Grease" starring John Travolta
and Olivia Newton John. What you may not know, however, is that it was a Broadway
musical before that and slowly gained immense popularity until fans were clamoring
for more. In it's 34th season entertaining the O.C., the Fullerton Civic Light
Opera now presents the old-fashioned version just in time for some cool fun these
hot summer months.
those of you who missed the whole "Grease" phenomenon, the story revolves
around rambunctious 1950's teenagers at Rydell High School. Danny Zuko (Brian
Brigham) and Sandy Dumbrowski (Michelle London) meet over the summer and fall
in puppy love and then unexpectedly find themselves attending the same high school
in the fall. The trouble is, Danny belongs to the infamous Burger Palace Boys
and is not too cool about displaying affection for straight-laced innocent Sandy.
Of course, they reconcile by the end and everyone's happy. That's the basic plot,
with a lot of rock and roll (and a few small sub plots) in between.
Roger Castellano creates a lot of groovy moves for the excellent cast and regales
the audience with classic rockin' good tunes. Highlights include Frenchy (the
bubbly Lola Ward) being serenaded by the delectably goofy John Schoenherz as Teen
Angel counseling her in career ambitions in "Beauty School Dropout",
two renditions of "We Go Together" by the entire cast and everyone's
favorite - "Summer Nights" - with the whole cast recounting the summer
tale of Danny and Sandy. The majority of the cast is great, especially Bets Malone
as the tough-talking Rizzo and head of the Pink Ladies ("Look at Me, I'm
Sandra Dee" and "There are Worse Things I Could Do"), Lowe Taylor
as Marty the vamp ("Freddy, My Love") and Roger (Danny Stiles) and Jan
(Colette Peters) literally mooning over each other in "Mooning".
Brigham is a nice, strong, handsome Danny, matching the rest of the Burger Palace
Boys and all of the Pink Ladies are delightful. The one notable exception is Michelle
London who is unfortunately a vanilla, uncharismatic Sandy and whose voice is
much too operatic for a rock and roll musical. ("Summer Nights", "It's
Raining on Prom Night", "All Choked Up", etc.) Sadly, she doesn't
really fit so it's hard to root for her. Everyone else is a lot of fun, including
Jeff Weeks as smarmy Vince Fontaine who oversees the climatic dance concert, where
the hard core dancing really begins ("Born to Hand Jive").
other few problems have to do with the set. Scenic Designer Dwight Richard Odle
may have wanted to convey an adolescent atmosphere with brightly colored cardboard
sets, but for a professional theater, it doesn't quite match the rest of the production
values. To be fair, they are housed in an actual high school, so that may have
been the intention after all. What should be a highlight number, "Greased
Lightning," (the Burger Palace Boys crooning over a hot set of wheels), is
disappointing, especially in the odd dressing the car. It should have an earlier
reveal, as should the neon sign of "Grease", but both end up in a spectacular
curtain call; we really should have been enjoying these electrifying sights all
along. Odle's costume designs are a lot more on target, fitting the period perfectly.
live band is great, (kudos to Musical Director Todd Helm), as are all the dance
numbers and the whole dance concert scene, although it is a bit odd to have the
band way up on such a high platform. It's too bad, that platform isn't moveable.
As it is a permanent fixture, it dominates every scene, in spite of Donna Ruzika's
lighting design. Also, Sound Designer A.J. Gonzalez needs to look into the mechanical
problems of the microphone since the actors kept going in and out all night.
spite of these minor glitches, it's an awfully fun show and the irrepressible
cast totally wins us over. So it's definitely worth a look, especially if you
live nearby in Orange County. (Note to Angelinos: it's a bit of a long drive,
so bring your I-pods or books-on-tape!) There's even a sample study guide in the
program by Carol Philip (Anaheim School District teacher) translating "Grease"
slang into proper English - now, how fun is that?