It’s The Word.

Last night, we went out to see “Grease” at Van Nuys High School. This was the first of many productions of the show in the San Fernando Valley: supposedly there will also be productions of “Grease” at Cleveland HS and at Taft HS, as well as a production at the end of May at Nobel MS. The Van Nuys production was of particular interest, as they have a Performing Arts Magnet that we have applied to for next year.

For those unfamiliar with the musical (yes, you, in the back, I see you). Grease hit Broadway in the early 1970s. It is set in 1959 at the fictional Rydell High School in Chicago, and basically tells the story of the greaser Danny Zucko and his relationship with the clean-cut girl Sandy Dumbrowski. Side stories include the adventures of the Burger Shop Boys and the Pink Ladies, the high-school dropout, a teen pregnancy scare, and gang fighting. Just your standard, wholesome, high-school musical fare. There are a number of versions of the script floating around, from the original stage production (just described), to the well-known movie version (with John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John), to various hybrid and bastardizations. Van Nuys appears to have performed the original licensed stage script, with minimal modifications.

With such a well-known story, the focus of any review must be how the story was realized, not the quality of the story itself. As with any realization, that realization can be divided into three aspects: the good, the bad, and the ugly.

There were a number of very good aspects of this production. The set was phenominal, especially for a high-school production. There was basically a three part set, with a school portion in front, and a burger joint / bedroom upstairs (upper stage left and right). The center could open to roll in “Greased Lightening”, a modified truck body (no engine) obviously provided by the auto shop. There was a full eight-piece student band (piano, bass, guitar (2), reeds (2), flute/percussion, and drums) which did an excellent job with both the musical numbers and incidental music.

Turning to the performance aspects: In general, the acting portion and the dancing portions of the performance were very strong. I was particularly impressed with the singing abilities of Kacey Marton (YouTube example of her singing Besame Mucho) as Sandy Dumbrowski and Stephanie Hoston as Marty (who did a killer job on “Freddie, my Love”). Ms. Marton is particularly impressive given she’s in the medical magnet, this was her first VNHS production, and she’s from a family of scientists (and did a killer webpage on Medieval Guilds). John Armstrong gave a strong performance as Danny Zuko, and Mikel Bossette (YouTube of a play she wrote and directed) and Leslie Montano did reasonably as Frenchy and Betty Rizzo, respectively. Also impressive was the dancing ability of Mia Jamili (YouTube) as Cha-Cha Digregorio. Also worthy of mention were the performances of Lisa Lee as Jan and Julia Rachilewski as Patty Simcox.

As for the bad: There appeared to be a significant sound problem: I’m unsure whether it was badly-placed microphones or a mixing problems, but often the actors could not be heard over the music. There were also portions where the actors just spoke too fast, further complicating the ability to hear their lines. The audience didn’t help, screaming out to their friends over the lines (but it was a high-school audience, not a theatre audience, so this might be expected). My daughter noticed some line flubs, but from my point of view, they were not significant enough to distract. Lastly (and this is indeed a nit), the stand-in for “Greased Lightening” was from the wrong era — it was a 1990s Chevy Truck, cherry-red primer, as opposed to a 1950’s Ford or Chevy. It is a nit because one wouldn’t expect a HS production to get a real 1950s car, but perhaps the auto shop could have added some chrome and fins somewhere 🙂

The ugly: There was one ugly moment, from my perspective. The “Teen Angel” number is supposed to be suave and smooth. The young man playing the part had the acting and dancing moves down, but just didn’t have the voice for the number.

Overall, I think it was a pretty-good job for a high-school production (betcha thought I would say “High School Musical”), especially considering that this was Van Nuys’ first musical production. I do hope they do more musical productions: they are great audience pleasers, and allow for the growth of numerous performance skills. The magnet coordinator noted that this musical was a true unifying event for the school: it is nice when something other than sports unifies a school.

The cast consisted of Reyna Hallett (Miss Lynch), Julia Rachilewski (Patty Simcox), Marlon Meyerson (Eugene Florczyk), Lisa Lee (Jan), Stephanie Hoston (Marty), Leslie Montano (Betty Rizzo), Erick Maldonado (Doody), Timothy Glick (Roger), Dominic Gessel (Kenicke), John Geronilla (Sonny LaTierri), Mike Bossette (Frenchy), Kacey Marton (Sandy Dumbrowski), John Armstrong (Danny Zuko), Cody Banks (Vince Fontaine), Aria Pakatchi (Johnny Casino/Teen Angel), and Mia Jamili (Cha-Cha Digregorio). The singing and dancing ensemble consisted of Angie Beas, Joseph Cayanan, Paulina De La Rosa, Ashlyn Killham, April Machado, Amanda Molano, Deeanna Padilla, Marissa Perplies, Brandon Thomas, Nikki Stevens, and Kaitlin Marie Walters. The orchestra was conducted by Robert Eisenhart assisted by Aidan Reynolds, with Jung Lee (Piano), Kayla Cota (Bass), Aidan Reynolds (Guitar), Isaac Roman (Guitar), Dylan Rodriguez (Reeds), Joanne Ayalia (Reeds), San Juanita Martinez (Flute/Percussion), and Arturo Martinez (Drums). The overall production was supervised by Randy Olea.

So what’s next on our theatre calendar? Next weekend is a gothic weekend, with “Jekyll & Hyde” at Cabrillo Music Theatre on Sat 3/15 @ 2pm, followed the next day by “Sweeney Todd” at the Ahmanson @ 1pm. The following weekend (3/22) is “W;t” at REP East. On Sat 4/5 @ 8pm we have the premier of the new musical “Mask” at the Pasadena Playhouse. Either that week or the next week we’ll be getting tickets for “The Who’s Tommy” at Cal State Northridge. I still need to figure out productions for late April and early May — possibilities include “Pippin” at East West Players (5/8-6/8) and “The Immigrant” at Colony Theatre (4/2-5/4). On 5/31, we’re scheduled to see “A Chorus Line” @ 2pm at the Ahmanson, and “Of Mice and Men” @ 8pm at the Pasadena Playhouse. We’re likely to change those due to the performance of “Grease” at Nobel MS on 5/29, 5/30, and 5/31. That takes us to the end of 2Q08.