Regional Reviews: Connecticut & the Berkshires
Also see Fred's review of Coming Back Like a Song!
This is not to say that this production hasn't taken advantage of the songs written for the film: indeed, the first number is the title song, and "Hopelessly Devoted to You" and "You're the One That I Want" are featured in the second act. But Ivoryton Playhouse basically sticks to the original material and is all the better for doing so. In addition, the stage is filled with gifted actors who shine in their acting, dancing, and their singing of all this musical's infectious songs. So, it is highly recommended that you take a trip to Ivoryton Playhouse, to share in the fun and merriment of this terrific production of Grease.
When you enter the theatre, however, you may feel a little deflated. The curtain is up and the set (designed by Daniel Nischan) is mostly white and nondescript. However, once the show starts, all those feelings are likely to be washed away in the vibrancy of the production. As it turns out, the set is extremely functional, being able to transform the various areas onstage into, by turns, a bedroom, a malt shop, and a high school setting. Lighting designer Marcus Abbott does wonders illuminating the stage, and the fanciful projections look great against the white walls and blocks of the scenic design. There is sensational work done by costume, wig, and hair designer Elizabeth Saylor Cipollina as she masterfully evokes the enchanted time and place. It also helps that the skillful offstage band, led by expert music director Michael Morris, is so good.
From there, just let director/choreographer Todd L. Underwood work his magic, as the show is filled with energetic dancing and singing. Each number manages to stand out and, collectively, Grease seems to just overflow with high spirits and infectious talent. The show has been cast beautifully, from the leads to the chorus parts.
Kimberly Immanuel, who was so outstanding last season in Ivoryton Playhouse's production of The Fantasticks, is just as good here as Sandy, and she shines in such numbers as "Summer Nights" and "It's Raining on Prom Night." She even manages to make one forget about Oliva Newton-John in her resplendent rendition of "Hopelessly Devoted to You." And, if Johnny Newcomb doesn't entirely erase John Travolta's performance from your head, he still is a fine Danny, especially in his touching rendition of "Sandy." It helps a lot that Newcomb looks just ideal in the part.
In supporting roles, Alyssa V. Gomez is zesty as Rizzo and her singing of "There Are Worse Things I Could Do" is great, revealing layers beneath her character's aggressive façade. Natale Pirrotta is excellent as Kenickie (love that staging of "Greased Lightnin'"!) and Taylor Morrow and Luke Linsteadt are strong as Roger and Doody, respectively. As for the Pink Ladies, Katelyn Bowman, Taylor Lloyd, and Audrey Wilson all sparkle in their individual songs as well as the full company numbers. In a role that doesn't usually stand out, Cory Candelet is fantastic as Eugene, constantly falling down or pulling at his suspenders.
There is definitely a rocking good time to be had at Ivoryton Playhouse's production of Grease, and that energy is contagious in bringing the audience to cheers throughout the show. I didn't think it was possible to pretty much eclipse the memory of the blockbuster movie version, but that is exactly what happens here, thanks to the awesome talents of director Todd L. Underwood and his revivifying group of actors. As the title song proclaims, and it is certainly true of this production, Grease truly is the word.
Grease, through July 29, 2018, at Ivoryton Playhouse, 103 Main St., Ivoryton CT. For tickets, please visit www.ivorytonplayhouse.org or call the box office at 860-767-7318.