The scene: Langley High School on a cold Thursday night. A lively band played, ushers shuffled stacks of sleekly designed programs and the small auditorium quickly filled with a squirming, eager audience.
Clearly, Langley's production of "Grease," the rock-and-roll musical devoted to the lives and loves of 1950s teenagers at fictional Rydell High School, had received some local fanfare; the growing opening-night turnout suggesting a fun evening ahead.
And it was. Langley's version of "Grease"--the 1972 off-Broadway play turned 1978 movie turned modern-day high school theatrical staple--boasted talented actors, a skilled orchestra, charming costumes and an impressive set. Technical difficulties abounded but were largely overshadowed by the personalities on stage.
Favorites included Danny Zuko (played by Charlie Tysse) and his leather-clad T-Bird buddies, who, with their suave moves and fantastic "us-guys" interactions, fairly reeked of the '50s. Sonny (Clay Lee), tall and lanky in his too-short jeans and basketball sneakers, kept the audience chuckling with his antics; Patty Simcox (Suzanne Medici) was the quintessential overly energetic cheerleader; Sandy Dee (Sarah Wilson) was small and sweet; and Rizzo (Joanne Ilagan) had a strong, vibrant singing voice befitting her crusty character.
These dynamic players were left to carry the show when the overall energy of the chorus flagged on occasion. Long breaks during scene changes, somewhat sporadic computerized lighting and not-so-functional microphones hurt the continuity but perhaps were opening-night hiccups.
The tight, mostly student-produced choreography, however, did much to bring individual scenes together.
A dreamy production of the Frankie Avalon hit song "Beauty School Dropout," featuring a chorus line of otherworldly dancers with towel-wrapped heads and a handsome Teen Angel (Evan Ayars) with a voice to die for, was one of the musical's finer moments.
Impressive, though not quite accurate to the 1959 setting, was a swing dance routine executed by Danny and tough girl Cha-Cha (Pam d'Alessio) to the musical number "Born to Hand-Jive."
Although Langley's cast did not portray its mythical peers at Rydell with the patina of urban toughness usually associated with "Grease," the 1950s effect was no less realistic. The sets, costumes and mannerisms of the actors couldn't help but draw everyone back to the days of the Burger Palace Boys and the Pink Ladies.
Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology
Rydell High was back in full swing for Langley's revisit to the 1950s. The cast had more than 50 members, giving made-up Rydell the claustrophobic feeling of a real high school.
Though by now, everyone--even small children--can hum a few bars from one or more of the classic tunes from "Grease," Langley's staging offered several surprises, chief among them when Kenickie, the slickly pompadoured leader of the Burger Palace Boys, buys the hot rod Greased Lightnin'. Langley rolled out an actual car, evoking gasps from the audience as Kenickie "drove" it on stage.
Another surprise awaited at Rydell's prom, when Danny (Charlie Tysse) and Cha-Cha (Pam d'Alessio) blew the place away with their prize-winning dancing to "Born to Hand-Jive."
Stirring performances also were given by Clay Lee as Sonny, who stole the show when he walked on stage, and Jaqui Polk, who played Marty with crispness and energy. These two should have had more scenes together.
Musical highlights included two solos by Joanne Ilagan as Rizzo: "Look at Me, I'm Sandra Dee," and the heart-tugging "There Are Worse Things I Could Do." Teen Angel (Evan Ayars) brought down the house with his rendition of "Beauty School Dropout."
The night was not snag-free, however. Lighting and sound were inconsistent throughout the performance, and 11 separate two-minute scene changes left the audience restless. All in all, though, Langley's Rydell seemed a worthy offspring of its musical ancestors.
Chantilly High School
CAPTION: Charlie Tysse, center, plays Danny in a scene with the Burger Palace Boys from Langley High's version of "Grease."