‘Grease’: The 50s make a rockin’ return at NSMT
BEVERLY — Warren Casey and Jim Jacobs are the theatrical equivalents of “one-hit wonders.”
They had an idea for a musical with music from the late 50s and characters from the golden days of rock ‘n’ roll, and they ran with it — all the way to the bank.
After its 1971 debut, “Grease” went on to became a hit on Broadway and in the West End of London — at one point it was the longest-running show in Broadway history — and the blockbuster 1978 movie starring John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John only cemented its status as a cultural icon.
Casey and Jacobs never had that kind of success again either individually or as a team and Casey died in 1988, but their place in musical theater history is safe.
The musical’s book by the duo is but a convenient clothesline to hang the songs and production numbers onto.
Boy meets girl during the summer of 1958, just before their senior year of high school.
Danny Zuko (Matthew Ragas) of the “bad boy” T-Birds returns to Rydell High, never expecting to see Sandy Dombrowski (Ephie Aardema), his summer love who was supposed to be going to Immaculata but somehow ends up at Rydell, instead.
That sets up the dueling stories of a torrid summer romance (“Summer Nights’) with Danny accentuating the positive and embellishing while Sandy regales the members of the Pink Ladies with the romantic aspects of the relationship.
When the two meet up unexpectedly — oops — he’s suddenly as cold as ice. What will happen between them. Does Goody Two Shoes Sandy have what it takes to be part of the Pink Ladies?
Aardema gives Sandy spunk and sass and the vocal chops to deliver “Hopelessly Devoted to You.”
There’s nice performances by Lily Tobin as the big-haired beautician wanna-be Frenchy,
Gerianne Perez as the hard-edged Rizzo, Aleka Emerson as Marty and Brooke Shapiro as Jan.
Ragas has both the matinee idol looks and vocal chops to bring Danny to life, with strong support from Miguel Jarquin-Moreland as Kenickie, Shawn Platzker as Doody, Michael Mendez as Roger and Jason Moody as the nerdy Eugene Florczyk.
Someone made the excellent decision to cast NSMT favorite Cheryl McMahon as spinster schoolteacher Miss Lynch, and she opens the production with some improvised riffs that have to do with a reunion at Rydell. Watch out if you’re chewing gum in the first few rows of the theater. She hilariously channeled a few previous roles at the theater, including playing a nun in “the Sound of Music.” (“The hills are alive. At least something is alive.”)
The laugh-out-loud moments come, especially when it comes to a time when everyone smoked — including the doctors — and the scene of Danny smoking as he competes for the track team.
Director Mark Martino and choreographer Mark Stuart make sure the energy level never lags and there aren’t any weak links in the cast vocally or dance-wise. The production numbers come rolling off the Casey-Jacobs pipeline: “Greased Lightnin,’” “We Go Together” and “Born to Hand-Jive.”
Morgan Marcell has some sterling dancing moments as nonpareil dancer Charlene “Cha Cha” Degrogorio
The songs that were written and added for the 1978 film are all included here: “Hopelessly Devoted To You,” “Sandy,” “You’re The One that I Want” and the title tune, a hit for Frankie Valli way back when.
There are some nice production touches, including the hilarious scene at a drive-in complete with screen clips from “Attack of the 50-Foot Woman” and the requisite dancing hot dogs at intermission.
The costumes by David Costa-Cabral are spot-on, including dazzling outfits for DJ Vince Fontaine and Teen Angel (both played by Phil Lawson) and the customers at the beauty shop in the “Beauty School Drop-out” number.
Music Director Craig Barna engineers an energetic ensemble playing the rock-pop score.
Hey, Mr. Baby Boomer, and yes, you amateur anthropologists who want to see what life was like 55 years ago, when dinosaurs roamed the earth. Put the ragtop down on the T-Bird convertible, set the radio to your favorite AM station and let the 1950s music and the memories wash down over you in this production of “Grease.”
The North Shore Music Theatre production of “Grease.” Book, music and lyrics by Warren Casey and Jim Jacobs. Directed by Mark Martino. Choreographed by Mark Stuart. Music direction by Craig Barna. Scenic design by Jeff Modereger Lighting design by Michael Barnett. Sound design by Benjamin Furiga. At the North Shore Music Theatre through Aug. 24. http://www.nsmt.org.