I suspect it has now been more than three decades since I had one of my most enjoyable nights on Broadway when attending the original production of the musical “Grease.” In my opinion the popular movie that followed was over-produced, and even with its stars, John Travolta and Olivia Newton John, could not come close to the charms of that first production on The Great White Way. Now, years later, The County Players have taken us back to the ‘fifties with the sweet musical hilarity that was lost.
With book, music, and lyrics by Jim Jacobs and Warren Casey, this sparkling edition is skillfully directed by Tom Lawrence, and features the cute and sassy choreography of Denise Wornell. A very solid choral ensemble of “Alma Mater” opens the show at Rydell High School amid the bright lighting designs of Cara Schaffer / Kevin Barnes, and the simple, but eye-catching orange set design of Bill Peckham / Lisa Ida. The talented singers in the cast are gaily costumed by Dilys Clark (with her 5 assistants), and well supported throughout by the fine 7-piece backstage band directed by Roger D’Aquino.
As the very prim principal, Miss Lynch, Carole Ernest delivers an amusing characterization. The “Pink Ladies” (Catherine Messing, Mary Beth Boylan, Erin Cross and Mary Dallari) and the “Burger Palace Boys” (Raymond Gordon, Kyle Hewitt, Jeremy Robbins and Lucas Coleman) quickly light up the stage with a high-energy parody of “Alma Mater.” The cast gives us gang members that are much better at clowning and wisecracks than the group Hollywood provided in the film. And speaking of the movie, lovely Amy Slader Schaffer gives us a Sandy on a par with Olivia Newton John. In her lead role, the attractive Schaffer combines her pretty blonde hair, blue eyes and a glowing complexion with a very pleasant singing voice. Her co-star, Rick Meyer, pairs well in the role of Danny as they sing a sweet “Summer Nights” with great dancing and vocal counterpoints from the ensemble. Somehow D’Aquino’s backstage musicians were perfectly synchronized and at just the right volume.
In fine voice, Hewitt leads the gang members in the adorable and finger-snapping “Those Magic Changes.” Mr. Barnes gives us humorous radio broadcasts as comical deejay, Vince Fontaine, while the Pink Ladies frolic at their pajama party with Miss Cross nicely leading “Freddy My Love.” Regrettably, the band’s volume here was too loud for the singers to be heard, and band volume was still excessive as Gordon led the boys in the high-energy “Greased Lightnin’” number that brought down the house.
There is another hilarious comic turn from Megan McGarvey as the endlessly whiny and insipid cheerleader, Patty. There is more fun as Robbins and Dallari sing “Mooning,” and the vocally powerful Messing makes herself heard over the band while spoofing the All-American girl in “Look at Me, I’m Sandra Dee.” Act One closes with great ensemble singing and dancing in the lively, “We Go Together.” That energy carries over as the full company opens Act Two with “Shakin’ at the High School Hop.”
Schaffer’s fine solo of “It’s Raining on Prom Night” is plaintive, rhythmic, and sweet. The dance scene at the gym features great laughs from the performances of the deejay (Barnes), nerdy Eugene (David Mossey), and George Conrad as wild man entertainer, Johnny Casino. There is an uproarious, “Born to Hand-Jive,” with great disco-style dancing from Danny and Cha-Cha (Kelly Robisch).
Then came my favorite number, “Beauty School Dropout.” Mr. Conrad is back in a riotous secondary role as Teen Angel, singing this great Do-Wop number with great comic flair. The gals (in gold lamé aprons and hair curler crowns) and the guys (in golden halos) again stop the show with their antics. Following the convincing Drive-In Movie scene, Hewitt and Robbins sang a very nice “Rock ‘N’ Roll Party Queen,” and Messing delivered a precocious “There Are Worse Things I Could Do.” The full cast finale brought a much deserved standing ovation, and I clapped especially hard because I knew my great-niece, Heather, had done a wonderful job backstage as prop girl!
Grease performances continue at 8 p.m. on May 9, May 10, May 15, May 16, and May 17. For information and reservations, please call the box office at 298-1491. County Players Theatre is located at 2681 West Main Street (Rte. 9D) in the Village of Wappingers Falls.