The Bolles School Fine and Performing Arts Department Review
Dick Kerekes & Leisla Sansom [email protected]The Bolles School presented a charming revival of “Grease” at the Parker Auditorium on the Bartram Middle School Campus, in Jacksonville, Florida during a three-performance run during November 19 – 21, 2015. This hit musical opened in New York in 1972, and proved so popular it ran for seven years and has been brought back time after time.
The Dual Critics put our gravel grippers on the ground and shuffled on over to the Bartram Road campus to catch the production, which was a blast from the past. The musical has a mission: it returns every few years to educate new generations of Americans about the experience of high school in the 1950s, while offering a well of nostalgic remembrances for older folks. We remembered such things as hiding in car trunks to sneak into drive-in theatres, and school dances filled with “our” music.
While on vacation at the beach in 1959, Danny Zuko (Sandro Bevilaqua) woos the attractive and virtuous Sandy Dumbrowski (River Reynolds), who later shows up as the new girl at his school, Rydell High. Together they belt out “Summer Nights,” the first great song in the musical. Danny comes across as a sweet guy according to Sandy’s retelling of the summer but because it is cool, Danny hides his feelings for her in front of his greaser buddies, the Burger Palace Boys: Doody (Roland Johnson), Roger (John Norcross), Kenickie (Garrett Bennett), and Sonny (Julian Crosby).
The rest of the story is like an episode based on American folklore, as Sandy gets introduced to the world of forbidden cough-inducing cigarettes and unpalatable cheap wine by the Pink Ladies. The group, led by the wisecracking Betty Rizzo (Diarra Samb), includes Jan (Rachel Johns), Marty (Isy Milne), Frenchy (Lilly Bateh), and Patty (Sarah Kate Levin).
As the show continues, several subplots emerge, that include dealing with gang violence, love, teenage pregnancy and friendship. The ending was a happy one, but it was much more fun getting there than we remembered from our experiences at past productions.
The show is filled with many other colorful characters. Darden Alexander plays the only adult as Miss Lynch, the strict teacher who organizes the school’s activities and keeps order. Eugene, the class nerd, is played by Duncan Evans. Serena Scalcione played the role of Radio Star. Ian McCutcheon, as lounge lizard Vince Fontaine, teams up with radio announcer Johnny Casino (Van Lucas) to host the “Born to Hand Jive” dance contest. The winner in a show stopping performance was Cha-Cha DiGregorio (Gigi de Hechavarria); her partner was Danny Zuko.
There were some sixteen songs in Grease, most of them in the mode of rock and roll, which was then in its infancy. We found all of them interesting and among our favorites were “Look at Me, I’m Sandra Dee,” “We Go Together,” and “Greased Lighting.” An audience favorite, judging by their applause, was “Beauty School Dropout,” with Frenchy as the dropout and female angels with their hair in curlers who were dressed in white robes. This featured Kristopher Stam as Teen Angel singing with his marvelously rich voice.
While we have noted the featured singing and speaking roles, what made this show special was the large ensemble cast who portrayed colorfully and appropriately dressed high school students, and were on and off the stage, singing and dancing in various numbers. This was a high-energy production with lots of dancing by the guys and gals and was choreographed by Angela Blackledge, with Dance Captain Isabel Vasquez. Ensemble members were: Elizabeth Arceneaux, Shelby Flanagan, Brittany George, Naomi Herman, Hannah Lee, Sophia Lutz, Grace Maroon, Leah Scott, Kareena Sharma, Mallorie Sievert, Kenny Sogbesan, Angela Sun and Chance Thornson.
This middle school auditorium provides the large stage that was needed for the large cast and set. The interesting set by Art Director and Scenic Artist Herman McEachin, along with Technical Director Andy Payne, used a two story scaffold with red florescent lighting that ran the length of the stage. The stage managers who kept things moving were Asha Anderson and Ria Joglekar, and set pieces were quickly moved in place. We were impressed by the two real automobiles belonging to Kenickie which were rolled on and off stage.
Live music was provided by the excellent orchestra led by Music Director Rachel Clifton on Keyboard #1, with Bryden Atwater (Drums and Percussion), Jacob Schuman (Guitar), and Beth Zerkowki (Keyboard #2).
Costume Master Kelly Cullen captured the iconic look of the period with Converse sneakers, poodle skirts, black leather jackets, white tee shirts, and some form-fitting spandex slacks for the girls. Every moment brought something to fill the eye.
This was an excellent selection for a student production, as it allow those new to acting to be on stage without the pressure of having to learn extensive lines. Bravo to Bolles Theatre Director Laura Anne Ripple, who, as the Director, put together one of the largest ensemble casts we have ever seen for “Grease,” and had them deliver those well-known one-line jokes and sing familiar favorites with gusto. Her direction captured all the wiggles and the wails of the fabulous 50s.