Summer lovin’ and audiences are definitely having a blast at the Alhambra Theatre’s production of the beloved musical “Grease.” After an indefinite hiatus and reluctantly easing into a new normal, embracing a night of live theatre felt like a familiar hug from an old friend. Social distancing kept the hugging at bay but there was plenty of singing and dancing to such classics as Greased Lightning, You’re the One that I Want and We Go Together.
Grease opened July 30 and runs through Sept. 27 with an extra three weeks added to the show’s run to meet the demand since capacity is limited during each performance. It was impossible to mask the excitement of the audience as they sang and chair-danced along to the iconic score.
The Alhambra staff adapted to the necessary adjustments in seating arrangements (every other table and seated only on one side) and COVID protocol in stride (all staff is masked and gloved). Spirits were high, the food was first rate and the energy of the crowd was palpable even with the reduced capacity. Social distancing limited the ability to celebrate with an opening reception but plated hors d’oeuvres were served to guests at their table.
Speciality cocktails included the Pink Lady martini, Greased Lightnin’, Beauty School Dropout and T-Bird. The menu consisted of three selections prepared by Executive Chef DeJuan Roy. Among the evening’s highlights was a delicious watermelon salad on a bed of arugula with a white balsamic vinaigrette that some audience members rated as better than sex (seriously, it was that good). And that’s good news for anyone who wants to sample the menu outside of the show schedule. Meals are available to go, helping the theater treat its audience to the artfully prepared meals even when they’re seated at their own dinner tables.
Once the first saddle shoes hit the stage, Grease is non-stop energy with a talented cast that stayed true to the original stage script. Numbers like “Freddy My Love” and “It’s Raining on Prom Night” answered some lingering childhood questions about the film soundtrack I wore out in the 70’s and 80’s. While the songs were featured on the double album, they do little more than serve as background music in some of the film’s scenes. Others were eliminated entirely. Scenes like Marty’s sleepover number describing her Marine love overseas made much more sense in the context of the musical.
That can present a problem when the audience is so familiar with a show brand. Comparison is inevitable but the results are most satisfying. In fact, most of the memorable scenes and characters are represented, just out of sequence for those who are only familiar with the film version. Even with masks on, it was easy to see the audience was singing along.
Danny Zuko is less of a jerk when Sandy turns up at Rydell High School after a whirlwind summer beach romance. Sam Stoll’s Danny has the swagger and the vocal chops to match Holly Atwood’s Sandy. Both blonde and talented, you will root for their happily ever after even if it’s a little bumpy along the way.
The Pink Ladies are rounded out with tough talking Rizzo, the tough as nails but soft at heart Nikki Elena Spies. Marty, played by Kalea Leverette is sassy and sexy. Sade Crosby’s Jan is cute and sweet. Patty Simcox was less obnoxious as the cheerleader with an eye for Danny. She befriends Sandy until she sees her shot. Despite her obvious attempt at stealing Zuko’s heart, she’s surprisingly likeable. Everyone’s favorite Beauty School Dropout, Mackenzie Rivera delivered a hilarious portrayal of pink-haired Frenchy. Together, they create a powerhouse ensemble of talented women.
The Burger Palace Boys are a goofy, rag tag bunch of wanna-be hoods and the predecessors of the movie’s T-Birds. Kenicke played by Rhys Kauffman, Doody played by Loren Stone, Sonny played by Brandon Leporati and Roger played by Luke Collins are a sillier, softer group than the hardcore T-Birds and feel more like a group of high school soda jerks than dime store hoods.
“Grease” has memorable appearances by Melvin Edward Nash II who doubled as Vince Fontaine and the Teen Angel who appears in a dream sequence urging Frenchy to go back to high school. Mitchel Burns as the nerdy Eugene has a meatier role than the bespeckled punching bag in the film version. Andrew Phoenix, a familiar face in local theatre, got the crowd rocking and rolling with the Hand Jive as Johnny Casino. And Hailey Hendrickson struts her stuff as Cha Cha Digregorio, the best dancer at St. Bernadette’s who wins the dance contest with Danny.
The show’s end feels slightly rushed but overall, “Grease” is more than nostalgia. It’s part of our history, a nod to a simpler time and as we continue to struggle with masks, social distancing and hurricanes, it feels good to know the memories are still within reach. As for the feeling of seeing live theatre again, well, it’s electrifying!
For more information and to inquire about tickets contact (904) 641-1212 or visit www.alhambrajax.com.