Theater Review: Imagine Productions’ Delightful Grease

Richard Sanford Richard Sanford Theater Review: Imagine Productions’ Delightful GreaseAaron Natarelli and Kate Glaser in Grease. Photos by Jerri Shafer.
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Since its stage debut in 1971, kicked into overdrive with the film version in 1978, America has swooned over the musical Grease by Jim Jacobs and Warren Casey (additional songs by John Farrar, Barry Gibb, and Scott Simon & Louis St. Louis). Imagine’s season-closing production, directed by Cathy Cordy, restores and amplifies the ferocious hormones and unadulterated joy of this witty riff on the 50s.

The evergreen story of Danny Zuko (Aaron Natarelli) learning to open up to Sandy Dumbrowski (Kate Glaser) instead of being beholden to the expectations of his friends and his class continues to ring true, with the help of the excellent chemistry between these two. Natarelli’s Zuko keeps a core of sweetness and an authentic questioning as he rubs against one rule after another. Glaser’s Sandy comes more formed and, while she learns to bend, makes none of her character’s choices feel like surrender. Their voices blend beautifully, slicing through strong ensemble parts and sparking against one another on “Summer Nights” and “You’re the One that I Want.”

The T-Birds and Pink Ladies are remarkably well-cast, with chemistry that convinces the audience they’re friends. Cordy, with music director and assistant director Adriane Grey and choreographer Lexi Daniels, uses the numbers that don’t advance the plot to cement this camaraderie.

Sly pastiches get a sparkling new life. Alex Reusch’s Doody attacks “Magic Changes” with a rockabilly yearning that leaves no doubt about the power of music in adolescence. Lorenzo McKeever’s Roger has a charm and resonant voice that recalls Big Sandy as he lends a jump blues flavor to “Rock and Roll Party Queen” and reveals a shy vulnerability on his crooning duet with Jan (Rachel Wiltshire). McKeever and Wiltshire’s chemistry makes their subplot burn bright in a few songs (also including Wiltshire’s devastating harmonies with Glaser on “Raining on Prom Night”).

Rizzo is one of the finest characters in an American musical and it’s hard to picture a better take on the character than Johanna Whetstone’s delivery. Whetstone works the layers of the character like a virtuoso chainsaw-juggler, shifting gears between the velvety-acid taunting of “Look at Me, I’m Sandra Dee” into the heartbreaking “There Are Worse Things I Could Do” without ever betraying the character’s truth. Her foil, Kenickie, gets an excellent read from Andre Tomlinson, brimming with charisma and fire to prove he should be the leader of the T-Birds, including an explosive take on “Grease Lightning.”

Throughout, Cathy Cordy threads a needle of the heightened stakes and the small world that is teenagedom, making the best use of a cast that’s very close to the ages of their characters. Lexi Daniels’ choreography also has an appealing looseness that makes the piston-firing group numbers more dazzling. 

They and their cast grasp the characters entertaining each other which makes this lean, well-tooled, fuel-injected Grease so infectious.

Grease runs through July 7 with performances at 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday. For tickets and more info, visit imaginecolumbus.org/grease.html.

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