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March 25, 2009 > Theater Review: Grease - one slick production

Theater Review: Grease - one slick production

By Jay Coleman
Photos By Lucy Burkhart

It's always dangerous when local theater groups take on iconic shows such as Irvington High School's (IHS) current spring musical "Grease," which runs through April 4. How can you think of "Grease" without seeing John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John in the 1978 movie, which became the highest-grossing U.S. movie that year?

But with the right amount of energy, a handful of popular songs and some amazing voices, there's just one word for this production ...slick.

"Grease" fanatics know the story well. It's 1959 and teenagers Sandy Dumbrowski and Danny Zuko have just ended a summer romance, expecting to return to different high schools. But Sandy ends up at Rydell High, where Danny is one of the cool, leather-jacketed T-birds - a persona that Danny kept secret during his summer fling. Sandy tries to fit in at the new school, which means spending time with The Pink Ladies - racy girls who find Sandy's squeaky-clean image quite annoying.

The story winds its way through high school life during the 1950s, including pajama parties, dreams of fast cars, the big dance, the drive-in movie (for those of us who still remember) and all the angst that comes with first love.

The Irvington Conservatory Theatre (ICT) is well known for its solid productions, but this show is one of its best in years, thanks to an excellent cast. Katherine Dela Cruz, an IHS junior who recently moved to Fremont from Vancouver, British Columbia, heads the ensemble cast as Sandy. Diminutive in size, she carries an incredible voice. When she belts out the powerful and difficult-to-sing ballad "Hopelessly Devoted to You", you'll find yourself thinking "Olivia Newton-who?"

Cruz has excellent onstage chemistry with Guy Duran in the Danny Zuko role. This is the first staring role for Duran, an ICT regular, and he rises to the occasion with a strong voice, spot-on comedic timing and the boyish good looks of a young Travolta. He's at his best during the "Alone at a Drive-In Movie" scene.

Back on the Irvington stage after a two-year absence while focusing on Starstruck Theatre productions, is crowd favorite James M. Jones, who follows his most recent Starstruck role as the Scarecrow in the Wizard of Oz with the dual Grease roles of Johnny Casino and Teen Angel. Jones commands the stage whenever he steps on it, and it's no different in "Grease," whether he's leading the cast in the high-octane "Born to Hand Jive" dance number or crooning the hilarious ballad, "Beauty School Drop Out". It's a joy to see and hear Jones in an Irvington show again.

There is no shortage of strong voices in the cast, including Pink Ladies Betty Rizzo (Katie O'Brien), Frenchy (Bryana Gable), Marty (Victoria Whitaker) and Jan (Tara Williams). They each get a chance to show off their individual pipes in the song Sandra Dee, while O'Brien shines in "There Are Worse Things I Could Do", and Whitaker is equally strong in the do-wop tune "Freddy My Love."

The T-Birds have fun, too, especially in the dance number "Greased Lightning." Kenickie (frequent ICT lead actor Kenta Naoi, who demonstrates his athleticism during Greased Lightning), Doody (Washington HS's Mario Rappa), Sonny (Amber Trendowicz) and Roger (Mike Tran) get plenty of chances for physical comedy.

They may be small roles, but it's a delight to see Nicole Mitchell as Miss Lynch, Danny Andrews as Vince Fontaine, Brooke Stevenson as Patty Simcox, Chris Wilson as Eugene Florczyk and Ally D'Ambrosio, who raises temperatures as Cha Cha Digregorio.

Long-time ICT Artistic Director Linda Jackson-Whitmore has assembled a winning cast, crew and team that include Assistant Director Evan Boomer, Vocal Director Daina Joly, Technical Director Jeff Spott, Choreographer Lauren Benjamin, Conductor Charlie Rodda, Costume Designer Elizabeth Whitaker, Lighting Designer Evan Grant and Sound Designer Aaron Benn.

Ohlone College sponsors the show, and master wizard and Scenic Designer Fred Alim has created another innovative look. Vinyl records (ask your parents or grandparents, kids) and guitars dominate the pink and pale blue stage, which includes clever rotating sets that are multifunctional and reinforce the records ("stacks of wax") theme.

It's been 50 years since the Pink Ladies and T-Birds ruled Rydell High. Today we're told to forego burgers and fries for healthy, macrobiotic, sustainable, organic fare. But after seeing Irvington's latest gem, you'll agree that the time is right for "Grease."

Buy tickets on the IHS website www.irvington.org or by calling (510) 656-5711, ext. 46423.

Grease
Thursday, March 26 (half-price tickets)
March 27, 28, 29, and April 3, 4
7:30 p.m.
Sunday, March 29
3 p.m.

Valhalla Theatre
Irvington High School
41800 Blacow Road, Fremont
(510) 656-5711, ext. 46423.

Ticket Prices are $12 general admission and $10 for senior citizens, children under 12 and students with ASB sticker.

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