Regional Reviews: Phoenix
Jim Jacobs and Warren Casey's plot follows a group of high school kids in 1959 at Rydell High School who are typical ordinary teenagers looking for love, fast cars and fun times. The main story centers on the "square," though sweet, outsider Sandy, who realizes on her first day in her new school that her summer boyfriend Danny Zuko happens to also attend Rydell. Danny tries to act cool around Sandy, since he's somewhat exaggerated the physical nature of his relationship with her to his friends, which only confuses and hurts Sandy. The show follows their attempt to get back together.
The plot is really a series of vignettes with most capped off by a soaring song. Jacobs and Casey's music is a love letter to the varying song styles of the time period. While both an homage to the sweet natured 1950s and a tongue in cheek parody, the musical does touch upon such adult topics as sex and drinking and the need for friendship and the desire to fit in. While the topics the show tackles are done in a serious way, there are a few plot holes as well as some of the musical numbers aren't on par with the more well-known ones. It's easy to see why those songs were cut or replaced for the film version.
Director Bobb Cooper has found an impressive group of kids to bring these lovable characters to life. While the plot may focus on Danny and Sandy the show truly is an ensemble affair with each of the supporting actors instilling their characters with purpose and identifiable characteristics. Sure these kids can all sing and dance very well but the fact that they also deliver believable characters is a testament to Cooper's strong directing abilities.
As Danny and Sandy, Spencer Claus and Liz Grannis have plenty of chemistry. They elicit a large amount of charisma and spunk that make the audience root for them to be together. Claus does well in showing off the soft side to his harder, "cool," exterior while Grannis allows us to see her pain and intelligence and how she isn't quite as innocent as everyone thinks she is. Their warm, rich singing voices and impressive dance moves also add to their well-rounded and charming portrayals.
The rest of the highly enthusiastic cast includes Carly Makani Copp and Spencer Coben as tough talking Betty Rizzo and the gritty, yet charming, car loving Kenickie. They do exceptionally well with their songs "There Are Worse Things I Could Do" and "Greased Lighting." As Doody, Liam Thibeault's sweet voice delivers a winning "Those Magic Changes," while Tiana Marks, as Marty, scores with a soaring "Freddy, My Love." Steven Enriquez and Isabella Conner are lovable as Roger and Jan; Devon Policci has great comic timing as Sonny; and Haley Hanni is delightful as Frenchy.
VYT has wisely cast grown-ups in the three adult roles in the show. Lane Northcutt brings the right amount of enthusiasm and a dollop of sliminess as radio disc jockey Vince Fontaine while Virginia Olivieri is appropriately stern as Miss Lynch. Her biting delivery, harsh looks, and fun run ins with Policci's Sonny are perfectly played. Cory McCloskey has the right sarcastic edge as the Teen Angel and delivers a crowd pleasing, and very funny, "Beauty School Drop Out."
Technical aspects are impressive with stellar musical direction from Mark Fearey and Jessi Young's choreography adding a shot of exuberance to every one of her varied dance steps. The combination of Randel Wright's simple yet richly detailed scenic design and Michael Eddy's superb lighting design creates some evocative stage images. Karol Cooper's costumes evoke the style and time period of the show with varied, yet classic, designs.
Full of energy and a sentimental sensibility that both mocks and celebrates the 50s, Grease has been successful due to the quirky identifiable characters and the many memorable musical numbers. The shortcomings of the script may be beyond VYT's control but what isn't is smart casting, direction, choreography and exceptional creative aspects. VYT delivers on all of those aspects and that's why the end result is an exceedingly entertaining good time.
The Valley Youth Theatre production of Grease runs through August 28th, 2016, at the Herberger Theater Center, 222 E. Monroe Street in Phoenix. Tickets can be purchased by calling 602-252-8497 or at http://www.vyt.com.
Book, music and lyrics by Jim Jacobs and Warren Casey
Cast: (in order of appearance)