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Review: 'Grease' a perfect marriage of casting, musical proficiency

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A scene from the Shenandoah Summer Music Theatre’s production of ‘Grease’ is shown. The play will continue Saturday at 2:30 and 8 p.m. — Courtesy photo

By Josette Keelor- jkeelor@nvdaily.com

The 1950s-era production of "Grease" is third in the Shenandoah Summer Music Theatre's lineup, but it deserves a cheerleader pyramid proclaiming it No. 1.

In this rendition, Jim Jacobs and Warren Casey's popular musical, Director Hal Herman and Musical Director Thomas Albert have joined the best of the stage play and the 1978 movie in a musical marriage of songs that fit so well together that they will convince anyone who will listen that they were meant for each other.

"Grease" has mood and meaning like never before with a score bursting with favorites and a cast of actors wisely chosen in their roles.

Abbey Austin is a naive-yet-likeable new girl Sandy, with a voice that conveys passion and a personality endearing her to the audience immediately. Lou Steele is equally personable as love-sick Danny whose hot-shot facade causes trouble in his love life.

The play begins with a closed-curtain voice-over introduction by Austin and Steele, who bid farewell to their brief summer enchantment as a new school year begins. When the curtain parts, it reveals eight silhouettes -- the four Pink Ladies and four Burger Palace Boys -- outward projections of their tough shells of rebellious conformity that the eight high school seniors show to their peers, effectively hiding their feelings of uncertainty for the future.

Whitney Warrenfeltz is sarcastic and unruffled as Betty Rizzo, and Zac Ostrowski, as Kenickie Murdoch, is cool and withdrawn.

Nicky O'Neal and Scott Donaldson provide skilled comic relief as Jan and Roger; Amanda Kouri and James Schoppe play off being too cool for school but proficiently convey their need for acceptance and love.

Randy Hodson's Doody and Mallory Keene's Frenchy seek to expand upon hidden talents. Doody impresses his friends with his guitar-playing skills, and Frenchy drops out of school to be a beautician.

All 10 are excellent singers, but it's Teen Angel Sean Dunavant who will knock off the startled socks of theatergoers. Hopping up onto the roof of the Burger Palace, he serenades Frenchy with "Beauty School Drop Out" during her humiliation of a daydream, and with tone and quality of a true angel, he stuns listeners.

Michelle Sauers brings pep and earnestness to head cheerleader Patty Simcox, and Josh Levinson is a delightfully sympathetic class nerd Eugene.

Set changes are barely noticeable thanks to crafty design by Wm. McConnell Bozman combined with complex yet well-executed choreography by Robyn Hart Schroth.

Though packed with extra music from the Hollywood movie, the stage play never feels over-the-top, and the skillful blend of hip rock ("Greased Lightning") mixed with easy doo-wop ("Those Magic Changes") provides a toe-tapping moment for every plot twist, poodle skirt twirl and carefully intended split.

To those planning on seeing only one performance at Shenandoah University this summer, this is the one that you want, but be prepared to leave the theater humming that opening number and wanting to see it all again.

"Grease" continues at the Ohrstrom-Bryant Theatre Saturday at 8 p.m. and will run through July 22. For tickets or more information, call 665-4569.

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