A Wop Ba-ba Lu-mop, A Wop Bam Boom

For the last two nights, we’ve gone over to Nobel Middle School (and we’re going twice today) to see the Theatre Arts Department production of “Grease”. Of course, we have a vested interest: our daughter is the student producer, plays Mrs. Lynch, and was also an assistant to the Set Designer, a Set Assistant, and just a general “do-er”. In fact, last night we heard her teachers say that she is one of the reasons this two-year program has gotten off the ground so successfully; they won’t know what to do next year without her. That really warms a parent’s heart.

Anyway, on to “Grease”. The version of “Grease” that was done by the school was not the original stage version (book, music, and lyrics by Jim Jacobs and Warren Casey), the movie version, the current stage version, or even the exact current licensed version. It certainly wasn’t exactly the version we saw at Van Nuys HS earlier in the year. I think the basic version of “Grease” is well-known; if you’re not familiar with the canonical story, please look at the Wiki page. The version at Nobel was adapted by the Theatre Arts Department teachers. This adaptation did some things you would expect a middle school to do, such as add sufficient roles to involved the entire class, which worked reasonably well. As an example of this, there were two teen angels, one saw a full cheerleading squad, and one saw the coach trying various sports with Danny Zucko before settling on track. There were some wording adaptations to (sigh) adapt things for younger sensibilities, for who wants to hear 13 year old girls singing about possibly being P.G., or singing “Won’t go to bed ‘till I’m legally wed”. I could actually live with both of these. But there were aspects of the adaptation that did create problems for the purest in me. Songs were cut: Alma Mater, Those Magic Changes, Freddy My Love, Mooning, Shakin’ at the High School Hop, It’s Raining on Prom Night, Born to Hand Jive, Alone at a Drive-In Movie, Rock N’ Roll Party Queen, and There Are Worse Things I Could Do. Some of the movie songs were added (this was done in the revivals as well, so I can’t fault them much on this). Significant aspects of characters were either dropped or mentioned and forgotten. In particular here was the nature of Marti’s relationship to Freddy (shown in “Freddy My Love”) and the world-view of Rizzo (which didn’t require the P.G. aspect), shown in “There are Worse Things I Can Do”. Songs were also rearranged slightly. Some of these adaptations were due to time, and some to permit scenery changes, but I felt that it hurt the story. It didn’t make the show unwatchable, and probably would not have been noticed by those not familiar with the stage or movie versions, but it did grate on me.

However, what didn’t hurt the production was the quality of the student acting and singing. Overall, this was quite good, although in a few number the ensemble drowned out the leads, and as with the Van Nuys production, the Teen Angels could have used a bit more vocal suave, smoothness, and strength (in particular the Good Angel). But overall the acting was quite strong: students were in character, most could be heard clearly (a problem in the last musical they did), there were no dropped lines, no prop gaffes — everything was seamless and strong.

Before I go to listing the cast, there are a few standouts I want to mention (and no, my daughter isn’t the only one). I think one of the strongest actresses in the entire show was Camille Martellaro as Frenchy. She sang strong and clear, she got the vocal characterization down, and she played the character well. I think she’ll go far. The leads (Teal Fink as Sandy and Henry Rosen as Danny) were also quite strong. Their acting was spot on. They had the right vocal quality and timbre for singing, but at times they needed a bit more strength. That will come with practice. The honor students, Gabby Koek as Patty Simcox and Evan Lowell at Eugene were also well played: they didn’t have non-ensemble singing roles, but they embodied their characters well. Maria Kazantsev as Cha-Cha DeGrigorio was also quite strong: she did perfect dancing, had fun playing off Eugene, and just seemed to fill the role well. Lastly, I was impressed by Erin Faigin (nsshere) as Mrs. Lynch. Again, a non-singing role, she characterized it well — and had the best projection and diction of all the characters, being heard clearly and distinctly, in character, from the back of the auditorium. Daniel Black was also very strong as Coach Calhoun.

This production also exhibited the growth of the department at Nobel. There were professional quality sets, and a significant number of set changes and costume changes (difficult in a middle school with limited wing space). From a full school professional-quality backdrop, to a full burger shop, to a Murphy-bed in a bedroom, to era-appropriate props. All excellent. Credit goes here to Dennis Kull (who was the set designer for “Bark!”) and his team of parent and student set builders, the prop selectors, the prop managers (led by Shoshana Strom and Crysta Gomez). The dancing was also very strong, even with multiple injured T-Bird members. Credit here goes to Giamaica Zeidler and her dance captains (Samantha Dorman, Nicole Zweig, and Chelsea Thomas). The sound was much improved over past performances, although the school could really benefit from the donation of about 6 body mics for production leads (hint, hint). Lighting was also strong, under the direction of Quest Ziedler. These were amazing technical aspects, especially for a 1960-era multipurpose room without significant upgrades.

Cast: Pink Ladies: Teal Fink (Sandy); Nicole Thompson (Rizzo); Camille Martellaro (Frenchy); Brooklyn Madrid (Marty); Lisa Aleksyuk (Debby). T-Birds: Henry Rosen (Danny); Trevor Chandler (Kenickie); John Accardo (Sonny); Benji Lampel (Putzi); Imman Leyberman (Doody); Roger (Robert Torres). Honor Students: Gabby Koek (Patty Simcox); Evan Lowell (Eugene). Cheerleaders and Jocks: Samantha Dorman (Sammy); Kelsey Trammell (Kelly); Erika Correa (Elizabeth); Owen Harvey (Arnold); Brandon Palacios (Andy); Ishaan Dayal (Albert). Teen Angels: Quest Ziedler (Bad Angel); Devon Yaffe (Good Angel). Faculty: Brandi Mcdow (Principal McGee); Jessica Levonian (Secretary Blanche); Erin Faigin (Mrs. Lynch); Rachel Spire (Miss Murdoch); Daniel Black (Coach Calhoun). Shining Stars: Jon Brenner (Vince Fontaine); Ryan Tayahua (Johnny Casino); Maria Kazantsev (Cha-Cha); Nicole Zweig (Violet). Greasers: Paola Grillo, Anthony Perrone, Shoshana Strom, Justice Benjamin, Mario Martinez, Tiffany Fleetwood, Quincy Moore, Emily Stachowiak. Poodle Skirs School Girls: Jaqueline Olguin, Alicia Lee, Jessica Harlow, Lianna Novitz, Belinda Freeman, Heather Raksin, Sussie Lopez, Jessica Zelaya, Brooke Gould. Denim Chick Clique: Chelsea Thomas, Tanira Cahu, Crysta Gomez, Claudia Ayala, Monique Bugarin, Jade Field, Elitza Batchiyska, Amanda Hirsch.

Crew: Fanny Arana and Jean Martellaro (Faculty Producers/Directors); Erin Faigin (Student Producer); Michael Chandler (Vocal Director-Parent Volunteer); Giamaica Zeidler (Choreographer-Sister Volunteer); Dennis Kull (Set Designer), assisted by Sarah Martellaro, Josh Zweig, Camille Martellaro, Nicole Zweig, Erin Faigin, and Quest Ziedler; Chelsea Thomas (Stage Manger), assisted by Tanira Chau; Brandi McDow (Vocal Assistant); Hollywood Sound (Sound); Jon Brenner and Devon Yaffe (Sound Managers); Quest Ziedler (Light Manager), assisted by Lianna Novitz; Evan Lowell, Alicia Lee, and Ishaan Dayal (Costume Managers, Mistresses, and Masters), assisted by Anthony Perrone and Jacqueline Olguin; Shoshana Strom and Crysta Gomez (Prop Managers) assisted by Nicole Zweig and Ryan Tayahua; Brandon Palacios (Mic Manager); Maria Kazantsev (Set Manager)… and many others.

“Grease” continues at Nobel Middle School this weekend: there are performances today at 2:30 PM and 6:30 PM. Come out and see the show, and support Rydell Nobel Middle School.

What’s next for us, theatre-wise? June brings “A Very Brady Musical” at Theatre West (Sat, 6/14 @ 8pm) and “A Chorus Line” @ Ahmanson Theatre (Sat, 6/28 @ 2pm). July brings “The Drowsy Chaperone” at Ahmanson Theatre (Sun 7/13 @ 1pm), “Looped” at Pasadena Playhouse (Sat 8/2 @ 8pm), and “Singing in the Rain” at Cabrillo Music Theatre (Sat 7/31 @ 2pm). There is nothing currently ticketed for August. I’m still exploring tickets for “Songs From an Unmade Bed” at Celebration Theatre (6/22 or 7/5) and “Parade” at Neighborhood Playhouse, Palos Verdes (7/19). Lastly, I just learned of a Cal Phil production of the music of Rogers and Hammerstein featuring Suzanna Guzman as mezzo soprano and Kevin Earley as tenor. Saturday July 26 at 7:30p will be on the green at the County Arboritum, but we have Playhouse tickets that night. However, they will reprise the concert on Sunday July 27 at 2:00p at the Disney Concert Hall, which I’ve never seen. Sounds like a possibility.