‘Grease The Musical’ Is Greased Lightning at Playhouse; Presented by Millennial Theater Company

By J.E.Ballantyne Jr.
YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – It is mid-summer in Ohio and what musical is more summer than “Grease The Musical”?

Written by Jim Jacobs and Warren Casey with additional songs by John Farrar, this iconic piece of Americana takes place in 1959 at fictional Rydell High School (actually dubbed that in honor of 50s heart throb Bobby Rydell). The musical touches on teenage love, greasers, and other complexities of teenage years with a highly energized musical score that keeps your toes tapping throughout.

Since several songs from the film have now been incorporated into the stage musical, the Alma Mater number (opener) is followed by “Grease” (from the film). It gets the show off to a strong start with a song that was a hit for Frankie Valli. The audience then meets the Burger Palace Boys headed by Danny Zuko and their counterparts, The Pink Ladies.

Ryan Lamb presents a strong and believable Zuko. From his first appearance, Lamb owns the stage whenever he is present. His strut, his line delivery and his character choices are all spot on. Musically, he is first rate and is at his best with his solo number, “Sandy,” in Act II. But his tough exterior also gives way to likeable soft spots especially in relation to “new girl in town,” Sandy Dumbrowski.

Sandy, a fish out of water, at her new school, is played well by Emily Choleva. Choleva matches Lamb at every move. The two were excellently cast opposite each other. Choleva plays the awkwardness of the “new girl” with perfection and develops the character well through her inner conflicts. She has several vocal high points which include “Raining On Prom Night” and “Hopelessly Devoted.”

Supporting cast members also shine. Tommy DeLuca’s Kenickie is full of energy and he has fun with “Greased Lightning;” George Maillis as Doody is a fun character and does well with “Magic Changes”; and Daniel Chiaberta is a smash as Eugene with great comic timing and some athletic dance moves. Ben Doss as Roger, and Gene Metro as Sonny round out the Burger Palace Boys.

On the Pink Ladies side, Sarahh Kinser does well with Rizzo but something seemed to lack in the character. Rizzo, sarcastic and pessimistic, came off a little light in the sarcasm category. She had opportunities to stretch the character further but fell short several times. Natalina Kazimir as Marty gave a spit-fire performance and was wisely front-lined in most dance numbers; Jan, played by Kaleigh Ceci got good laughs especially with her endless appetite for food (anybody’s food); Rebecca Williams excelled as Frenchy; and Brianna Rae Quinn gave a solid performance as Patty Simcox. A job well done must also go to the actress who portrayed Cha-Cha DiGregorio, uncredited in the program.

Another uncredited actor certainly deserves attention. Although only appearing in two scenes, he executed his blocking and his character perfectly. Although never referred to by name, I have never seen any actor, in my life, so completely upstage everyone else on stage by doing completely nothing.

Other cast highlights were Courtney Martin as Miss Lynch; Ryan Stewart as Teen Angel; Dominic Adams as Johnny Casino and Liz Amstutz in the role of the Prom Night Soloist for Raining On Prom Night. WAXX Radio DJ, Vince Fontaine is most ably played by Mark Williams capturing the essence of the old 50s radio DJs of the time.

Director Joe Asente has assembled a remarkable cast and an even more remarkable production. His direction was creative and precise and his production design served the production very well. Theater ghosts told me that he lost his musical director to illness five days prior to opening as well as his stage manager due to a family emergency. To still mount as strong a production as he did with those huge setbacks speaks volumes for all involved.

Musical Director Anthony Ruggiero turned out a cast with amazing vocal quality from start to finish. And most importantly the balance between the band and actors on stage was perfect. Choreographer Aubrie Morrison created fast-paced and exciting numbers that helped keep the evening moving and accurately reflected the 1950s era.

The cast worked well together with line delivery that was quick and well rehearsed. The only misstep was that once in a while the delivery got a little cartoonish but seemed to recover when.ever that popped up. The set, designed by Asente, was a two-level unit set with a multi-colored lighted proscenium with bleachers that moved on, off or together as needed.

“Grease The Musical” is one of those shows that most people have seen multiple times. They know the show and the characters. For those of us who were around in the 1950s, it brings back some great old memories. This production didn’t disappoint. If you missed opening night you still have a few performances left.

Whether you’re “old” like me or just a teeny bopper, make plans to get to the Playhouse for the Millennial Theater Company’s production of this old classic.“

“Grease The Musical” will continue July 30, Aug. 5, 6 at 7:30 p.m.; July 31, Aug. 7 at 2:30 p.m.

Pictured at top: Emily Choleva and Ryan Lamb play Sandy and Danny in Millennial Theatre Company’s production of “Grease.”

Copyright 2022 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.