IF YOU GO
What: Stage version of the popular 1978 film; Danny, Sandy, Rizzo and the gang sing their way through the halls of Rydell High
When: Wednesday through Sunday evenings with selected matinées through August 18.
Where: 1380 Colonial Boulevard, Fort Myers (in Royal Palm Square)
Cost: $27 to $51; various summer specials.
Information: 239-278-4422 or broadwaypalm.com
Something Else: A half-hour pre-show sees characters like Patty Simcox (the cheerleader) and Eugene Florczyk (the nerd) performing songs and dancing with the crowd as they prepare for Rydell High's reunion. Don't miss it!
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Do you think you know "Grease?" Does your version start and end with John Travolta and Olivia Newton John? Think again. Broadway Palm has a rock 'n roll, hand-jivin, greased lightnin' blast of fun that will knock your bobby sox off. It might be raining on prom night, but you'll have a blast.
The musical predates the 1978 film by a few years. Who don't know the plot? And who hasn't seen Olivia's skin-tight leather pants? Here's a brief synopsis anyway. Purists, beware - Broadway Palm uses the original script, not the revival, meaning that title tune "Grease (Is the Word)," inserted for the film, doesn't appear.
There's a boy, Danny Zuko. He runs the T-Birds, a greaser gang. New girl in town, Sandra Dumbrowski, wedges herself into the Pink Ladies. They fall in love in the halls of Rydell High. That's pretty much it. Young love. "Summer Nights." Problems. Drive-ins. Songs. Lots of songs. Much like the film, "Grease" blasts to life during the musical numbers - and sags just a little when no one does the hand jive.
Director Amy Marie McCleary makes a 40-year-old property seem fresh and new with inspired casting and her trademark whirling, snappy, lively choreography. Her zesty vision bounces, sways and rocks with energy.
McCleary's gift creates a "Grease" that explodes off the stage. If the thinly drawn characters and wan early 1970s dialogue in Jim Jacobs and Warren Casey's script disappoint (the film was snappier), the show roars when it moves.
"Summer Nights" and "Greased Lightnin'" pulse with energy, yet the movement feels fluid, easygoing and laid-back. Curtain number "We Go Together" sees the cast climbing over the gleaming Burger Palace set and heads bobbing throughout the audience.
Only iconic "Born to Hand-Jive" disappoints; compared to the film, the joyous number feels chopped - as if it was forced to end too soon, before we really get to enjoy the thrill of the song or the smooth moves of the dancers. Don't miss the finale though - when Sandy sizzles in leather, burbling "You're the One That I Want."
Adrienne Griffiths brings a sweetness to her Sandy and Jamey Isenor delivers a suave, care-free Fonzie-ness to his Danny. Laura Wright gives snap to Rizzo, perched on three-inch heels and sporting the iconic pink jacket. Robert Conte makes for a smooth-talking Kenickie.
Yet, the real standout performances come from the ensemble. Give McCleary credit for seeing these gems - and allowing them to shine. The show feels so much richer - and brighter for it.
North Fort Myers High School senior Trevor Schmidt (Doody) steals this show faster than the T-Birds can lift Kenickie's hubcaps and fuzzy dice. Potential throwaway song "Those Magic Changes" becomes a showcase. Schmidt belts the number in the halls of Rydell - and the theatre barely seems large enough to contain his voice. He's also an electric presence in the ensemble - leaping, bounding, pirouetting.
Longtime Broadway Palm talent John Ramsey makes magic as Frenchy's Teen Angel. Easily the funniest scene of the night, pink lights descend on the Burger Palace (to match Frenchy's pink hair disaster). Ramsey emerges through a silver curtain, in a silver suit, with backup dancers in beehives with silver rollers to give "Beauty School Drop Out" a smooth, velvety delivery.
The number is both fantastically comical and brilliant - especially Ramsey's sly delivery and the way McCleary's gave nods to the inherent cheesiness of the concept. Ramsey gives the number sizzle - far better than the cute but dull rendition Taylor Hicks performed during the 2009 tour.
Veteran Jayar Garcia sparks as the goofball Sonny LaTierri. Watch for his confrontation with mean Miss Lynch (Jennie Hollander). Bonner Church also scores laughs as roly-poly Pink Lady Jan (she never met a lunch she didn't like).
Loren Strickland's four-piece band does a solid job of pumping out the sound - and he's got the voices in rare form. John P. White and Jim Conti's costumes capture the feel of the characters without trying to replicate exactly the looks from the film.
"Grease" pulses with life and thrills every time the show swings into motion or launches into song. The halls of Rydell High might belong in decades past - but they still retain the power to entertain on a grand scale. Look for Griffiths as the charming Sandy, Wright as the crusty Rizzo and keep an eye out for Schmidt as the irrepressible Doody. He's the one with the moves.
"Grease is the word, is the word that you heard." Email me, email@example.com, find me on Twitter at @napleschris or read my Stage Door theater blog. You can also sign up to receive the Stage Door blog via email.