The North Carolina Theatre brought the terrific energy of Grease, the granddaddy of all the high-school musicals, back to the Raleigh-Durham area on Feb. 9th at Raleigh Memorial Auditorium. NCT’s Broadway Connection founder DeAnn S. Jones, president and CEO Lisa Grele Barrie, and artistic director and producer Casey Hushion and producer Carolee Baxter chose Lumberton, NC-born director Hunter Foster and his wife, choreographer Jennifer Cody, and music director/conductor Edward G. Robinson for this special production, presented in association with Samuel French, Inc.
Fans of the show squealed in delight when each of the beloved tunes about the love story between an innocent girl-next-door and the greaser mechanic began. One could hear members of the audience joining in on each of the hit songs made popular by both the 1978 film, based on the 1972 Broadway musical of the story. However, highlights of the night included a few surprises.
Ryah Nixon’s embodiment of Marty, the good/bad girl, is good in and of itself. Believable and appropriate for the time period. When she opens her mouth to sing “Freddy, My Love,” her rich and full voice makes her character more noticeable than any of the other females.
But the scene that had the audience practically standing on their feet was “Beauty School Dropout.” In other shows, the Teen Angel character is often played by stars and though Malcolm Armwood is not a star yet, his portrayal of the Angel proves that he should be one! His sense of humor, James Brown-like dance moves, and vocal riffs put the spit and polish on a number that’s comical but can be easily overplayed. His version was one of the best I’ve seen.
In spite of what appeared to be some technical issues — lighting produced quite a bit of smoke during the first act — and some opening-night jitters, the cast is a solid one and could hold up to comparisons with other casts, with a few exceptions. The stage version of this much-loved show is a bit different from the screen version, with which a large portion of the audience was more familiar. Several secondary characters are absent from the stage version and were missed for their comic relief. Perhaps because the 2016 live TV version of this show, starring Julianne Hough as Sandy and Vanessa Hudgens as Rizzo, aired less than a month ago, comparisons to other versions ran rampant throughout the audience, pre, during, and post show.
Chemistry is all important in this musical, and though both leads (John Arthur Greene as Danny and Emily Behny as Sandy) are fine actors/singers, they weren’t quite believable as the madly, passionately, and completely in love Danny and Sandy. Behny appears stiff at times, which can be dismissed as opening-night jitters, and she reminded several audience goers sitting nearby of Belle from Beauty and the Beast — which is understandable, because she has played the role. Her version of “Hopelessly Devoted to You” is sung plaintively, and there’s not a wrong note in the song; but she stands poker straight for most of the tune, as if she’s a 13-year-old afraid of being punished. One suspects that she can lose the jitters and still maintain Sandy’s innocence.
Greene, tall and rangy, has the mix of goofiness and tough-guy-attitude that Danny needs; and his voice can switch from be-bop to ballad without missing a note. Some might remember Greene as a participant on American Idol this season. During his audition, the judges mentioned that they thought he had other sides to his performance. They were right. Greene makes a great Danny. We just want him to melt into Sandy. Give us our bobby-sox Romeo and Juliet.
Some of the best loved characters in this show are the Pink Ladies and the Burger Palace Boys, the equivalent of a Greek chorus for the leading characters in Grease. Lauren Nicole Cipoletti plays Betty Rizzo as a dark, tortured Italian girl who wears a steel vest over her heart. Lilly Tobin’s Frenchy is petite, squeaky-voiced and big-hearted, a foil to Meaghan Foy’s over-the-top cheerleader and all-around-geek Patty Simcox.
The Burger Palace Boys love their cars almost as much as their girls and wear their bravado as a false mask over their insecurities. Matthew Rodin’s Doody dreams of becoming a singer, but shares laughs with his buddy Roger (F. Michael Haynie), giggling like grammar-school girls to cover their embarrassment whenever the opposite sex is in the area./font>
John T. Wolfe’s Eugene Florczyk is the goofy guy that everyone makes fun of, and the person all his friends in high school know will be the business owner someday. But the star of the Boys is the aspiring mechanic who wants to build his own Greased Lightnin’: Kenickie, brilliantly portrayed by Michael Warrell. His smile is both sinister and sexy; his voice and stage energy fill the space and beyond; and his swagger colors him as a leader.
What’s surprising about this show is that you can always see a glimmer of star quality in the Student Body. The North Carolina Theatre Conservatory Teen Ensemble brightened up the background; and several personalities are ones to watch: Joseph Gaitens, Victoria Marsh, Ahmad Ratliff, and Cady Van Venrooy.
Amazingly, this musical will celebrate its 50th birthday in several years. One wonders whether Tony®-nominated Jim Jacobs and Warren Casey, who wrote the original book, music, and lyrics, ever realized that their hit musical would keep them busy for half a century!
You can still see Grease at Duke Energy Center for the Performing Arts’ Raleigh Memorial Auditorium until Valentine’s Day. Take the “one that you want” to America’s favorite musical.
SECOND OPINION: Feb. 11th Raleigh, NC Triangle Arts and Entertainment review by Susie Potter: http://triangleartsandentertainment.org/2016/02/north-carolina-theatres-grease-is-charming-and-fun/; Feb. 11th Raleigh, NC WRAL.com interview with John Arthur Greene, conducted by Sarah Lindenfeld Hall for “Go Ask Mom”: http://www.wral.com/q-a-john-arthur-greene-star-of-n-c-theatre-s-grease-talks-craft-inspiration-fast-food/15352097/; Feb. 10th Raleigh, NC BroadwayWorld.com Raleigh review by Jeffrey Kare: http://www.broadwayworld.com/raleigh/article/BWW-Review-North-Carolina-Theatres-GREASE-20160210; Feb. 8th Raleigh, NC Garner Cleveland Record preview by Tim Stevens: http://www.newsobserver.com/news/local/community/garner-cleveland-record/article59166343.html; Feb. 7th Raleigh, NC News & Observer preview by Roy C. Dicks: http://www.newsobserver.com/entertainment/arts-culture/article58641923.html; Feb. 4th Raleigh, NC WRAL Out & About TV preview: http://www.outandaboutnc.tv/grease-is-the-word/; Feb. 3rd Durham, NC Indy Week mini-preview by Byron Woods: http://www.indyweek.com/indyweek/grease/Event?oid=4984317; and Feb. 3rd Raleigh, NC WNCN interview with John Arthur Greene and Emily Behny, conducted by Alex Butler for “My Carolina Today”: http://wncn.com/2016/02/03/nc-theatre-grease/. (Note: To read Triangle Arts and Entertainment’s online version of the Feb. 11th Triangle Review review by Dawn Reno Langley, click http://triangleartsandentertainment.org/2016/02/take-the-one-that-you-want-to-americas-favorite-high-school-musical-grease-in-raleigh/.)
The North Carolina Theatre presents GREASE at 7:30 p.m. Feb. 11 and 12 and 2 and 7:30 p.m. Feb. 13 and 14 in Raleigh Memorial Auditorium in the Duke Energy Center for the Performing Arts, 2 E. South St., Raleigh, North Carolina 27601.
NCT Box Office: 919-831-6941, ext. 6944, or http://www.nctheatre.com/tickets/season-tickets.
Ticketmaster: 800-745-3000 or http://www.ticketmaster.com/venueartist/115203/844058.
GROUP RATES (10+ tickets): 919-831-6941, ext. 6949; firstname.lastname@example.org; or http://nctheatre.com/groups.
SHOW: http://nctheatre.com/shows/grease and https://www.facebook.com/events/797169023702181/.
PRESENTER: http://www.nctheatre.com/, https://www.facebook.com/nctheatre, https://twitter.com/nctheatre, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/North_Carolina_Theatre, and http://www.youtube.com/user/nctheatre.
NCT’s 2015-16 SEASON: http://nctheatre.com/show-season/201516-season.
NCT BLOG (Stage Notes): http://www.nctheatre.com/stage-notes.
VENUE: http://www.dukeenergycenterraleigh.com/venue/memorial-auditorium and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Duke_Energy_Center_for_the_Performing_Arts#Raleigh_Memorial_Auditorium.
NOTE: Arts Access, Inc. of Raleigh will audio-describe the show’s 2 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 13th, performance.
Grease (1972 Broadway and 1973 West End musical): http://www.samuelfrench.com/p/2155/grease (Samuel French, Inc.), http://www.ibdb.com/Show/View/4056 (Internet Broadway Database), and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Grease_%28musical%29 (Wikipedia).
Study Guide: http://www.greasethemusical.co.uk/pdf/Education_Pack.pdf (U.K. tour).
Jim Jacobs (music, lyrics, and book): http://www.ibdb.com/Person/View/6743 (Internet Broadway Database), http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0414448/ (Internet Movie Database), and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jim_Jacobs (Wikipedia).
Warren Casey (music, lyrics, and book): http://www.ibdb.com/Person/View/9047 (Internet Broadway Database), http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0143558/ (Internet Movie Database), and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Warren_Casey (Wikipedia).
Grease (1978 film): http://www.tcm.com/tcmdb/title/4603/Grease/ (Turner Classic Movies page), http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0077631/ (Internet Movie Database), and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Grease_%28film%29 (Wikipedia).
Hunter Foster (Lumberton, NC-born director): http://www.ibdb.com/Person/View/69544 (Internet Broadway Database), http://www.imdb.com/name/nm1654795//a> (Internet Movie Database), https://www.facebook.com/Hunter-Foster-10258854548/ (Facebook page), https://twitter.com/hunter_foster (Twitter page), and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hunter_Foster (Wikipedia).
Jennifer Cody (choreographer): http://www.ibdb.com/Person/View/76147 (Internet Broadway Database), http://www.imdb.com/name/nm2278607/ (Internet Movie Database), https://twitter.com/jen__cody (Twitter page), and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jennifer_Cody (Wikipedia).
Dawn Reno Langley is a Durham, NC-based author who writes novels, poetry, children’s books, and nonfiction books on many subjects, as well as theater, music, and dance reviews. She is also a writer, editor, writing coach at Reno’s Literary Services of Durham. To read all of Dawn Langley’s Triangle Review reviews online at Triangle Arts and Entertainment, click http://triangleartsandentertainment.org/author/dawn-reno-langle/. To read more of her writings, click http://dawnrenolangley.blogspot.com/ and http://poetryandgardening.blogspot.com/.