“Grease is the word, is the word that you heard / It’s got groove, it’s got meaning / Grease is the time, is the place, is the motion / Grease is the way we are feeling...”
Those classic, transporting lyrics that open Grease: The Musical were sung passionately by the cast of Charlottetown Rural’s production last Friday night as their second of three public performances of this year’s musical swung into action before a buzzing sold-out crowd at Confederation Centre’s Homburg Theatre.
In a fitting twist, Charlottetown’s newly-renovated 50-year-old theatre stood proudly in its modern re-designed outfit, housing a stage full of Charlottetown youth who danced and sang in styled attire that was even older than the theatre itself.
Indeed, the jeans and tight T-shirts, the black leather jackets (worn by the “T” Birds), the poodle skirts, the bob-cuts, the pink jackets and black leather pants (worn by the Pink Ladies), the cheerleader outfits, those back pocket whip-out combs and, yes, the hair grease, were all out in full-force as Charlottetown Rural’s energy-filled opening number ignited the night in an exuberant spirit — garnering a massive applause from the crowd as they hit their last beat.
The first time that Charlottetown Rural presented Grease was 25 years ago.
Brought to life once again for P.E.I. audiences in an all-new version by Jim Jacobs and Warren Casey, the show was directed by Richard Haines and featured a cast led by Alexandra Smith as Sandy and Aidan Gallant as Danny.
Other key roles were played by Pink Ladies members Maria MacDonald (Rizzo), Jillian Vessey (Frenchy), Laura Whelan (Marty) and Gillian Gallivan (Jan), with “T” Birds members Lucas Gallant (Kenickie), Jon Williams (Doody), Josh Proude (Roger) and Nick Lipton (Sonny), along with Mary Kathleen Hickox (as Cha-Cha) and Mallory McInnis (as Patty).
Staying on the note of the cast, what particularly jumped out for me right away with this production was the remarkable chemistry between the actors.
High school musicals never fail to unite students together in incomparable ways — with the kind of all-on-the-same-page artistic force that is typically never experienced by students prior to a big theatrical production of this nature.
And it was easy to perceive from the get-go that this group of actors was all very comfortable working with each other, as scenes unfolded in a seemingly effortless way amid this evident on-stage (and most likely off-stage) camaraderie.
There were, of course, stand-out moments. The first half’s highlight numbers like Summer Nights, Smith’s exceptional widely-ranged vocal solo of Hopelessly Devoted to You, the hysterical Mooning number led by Proude (which had the audience roaring in laughter) and We Go Together were all shining points of a strong opening half.
And Born to Hand Jive (which was a delight to watch in its fun choreography, courtesy of choreographer Julia Sauve), MacDonald’s sweetly-sung solo of There are Worse Things I Could Do and the climax number of You’re the One That I Want were key moments of an impressive and entertaining second half for the show.
The 1950’s era stage props and scene decor like great convertible Chevys, walls of records, the funky Burger Palace, the beautifully-decorated high school dance and much more all helped to enhance the presentation.
And amid fantastic live music grooved out by the seven-piece student pit band (led by musical director Mark Parsons), the musical was rockingly propelled along from start to finish.
Well, almost to the finish, that is.
But even when an unfortunate CD-skipping mishap occurred (in the only point in the show where recorded music was played, at the end when the band came up to join in with the bows), the cast continued to display notable professionalism — shining on through the technical issue and even singing the last part of the finale in a cappella, as an immediate standing ovation rose up to them.
Congratulations to Charlottetown Rural for setting the engaging and fun time, place and motion that it truly was for this year’s presentation of Grease.
Next week: P.E.I. Brewing Company first anniversary celebration tomorrow night.
Todd MacLean is a local freelance writer and musician. If you have a comment or suggestion for a review, you can get in touch with him at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 626-1242. But he won’t be offended if you don’t.
Todd’s weekend picks
1. Kaleidoscope Festival – Stratford, all weekend long. Jenn Grant headlines the weekend with a show at Balderston’s Farms, Sunday at 1 p.m. See www.townofstratford.ca for the full list of events.
2. Dave Gunning – Trailside Café, Mount Stewart, today and tomorrow at 8 p.m. with dinner seating at 6:30 p.m.
3. Sears Atlantic Drama Festival – Watermark Theatre, Rustico, all weekend long. Visit www.watermarktheatre.com for more information.
4. Island Dance Academy: Dancing Through Time – Confederation Centre, tomorrow at 2 p.m. and 7 p.m.
5. P.E.I. Brewing Company first anniversary celebration – P.E.I. Brewing Company, tomorrow at 7 p.m., featuring Nathan Wiley, Al Tuck, Drea MacDonald, Dylan Menzie and more.
6. Five Years a Pourin’ Patio Party – The Old Triangle, tomorrow, 4-10 p.m., featuring J.J. and Koady Chaisson, Ripped Paper and Irish Mythen.
7. Carmen Townsend and Steve MacDougall of Slowcoaster – Hunter’s Ale House, tomorrow at 10 p.m.
8. The Fiddlehead Social – The Dunk, Breadalbane, Sunday, 1-10 p.m., featuring Catherine MacLellan, Racoon Bandit and many more.