The District Extra occasionally publishes reviews of high school shows that student critics have written under the guidance of faculty mentors as part of the Critics and Awards Program, also known as Cappies. The critics are not students at the school producing the reviewed performance. For more information, visit www.cappies.com.
What really happened on "those summer nights," as performed by the cast of Woodrow Wilson Senior High School in "Grease"? When students return to Rydell High from summer vacation, Sandy Dumbrowski (Laura Hankin) and Danny Zuko (Jordan Brown) tell their friends different versions of their summer romance.
Danny feels he is too cool for dapper Sandy, but she decides to fight to get him back.
"Grease" harkens back to the late 1950s, an era filled with early rock-and-roll and societal change. Though the 1978 film starring John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John made "Grease" famous, the show by Jim Jacobs and Warren Casey enjoyed an eight-year run on Broadway, from 1972 to 1980. The Broadway production was nominated for nine Tony Awards, and the 1994 revival received three nominations. Neither production won a Tony.
Hankin's beautiful voice could be heard clearly without amplification. She transitioned well from a shy, demure Sandy to a more outgoing and vibrant one in Act 2, clearly showing her range. Brown duplicated the falsetto Travolta made famous without difficulty and showed his comedic timing in "Alone at the Drive-in Movie."
Rosa Kelly played Betty Rizzo, leader of the Pink Ladies. She was exciting and energetic, compensating for the sometimes lackluster ensemble. Her voice carried well, and she was impeccable in "Look at Me, I'm Sandra Dee" and "There are Worse Things I Could Do."
Fine supporting characters included Jessica Bruce as Jan. She had excellent comedic ability and stood out in "Mooning," which she sang with Douglas Carson as Roger. Katie Cox-Shrader created a memorable Patty in her failed attempts to win Danny's affection. Byron Grant, who played Eugene, also was impressive in a wacky dance sequence.
The cast was at its best when Ersan Aygun, playing the Teen Angel, led the troupe in a performance of "Beauty School Dropout." Not only was the number full of energy, but Aygun stole the show. The numbers with the entire cast benefited from the extra performers and got all the actors involved.
The cast was at its best when Aygun led the troupe in "Beauty School Dropout."
The choreography was also much more fun to watch during these large numbers.
"Grease" requires lots of energy, something that the cast had difficulty with at times. In dialogue-driven scenes, performers occasionally had trouble picking up their lines, resulting in unscripted silences.
In addition, it was a trying experience to not compare the production with the film, from which several elements were borrowed. However, the production brought new ideas into the show and left a strong impression.
One thing not borrowed, fortunately, was the five-hour length of the original stage production in Chicago.
Viewers can relate to this show because we all know the difficulties of being a teenager. The Wilson cast conveyed this message with grace and poise in this solid production of a beloved musical.