Crossville Chronicle, Crossville, TN


February 6, 2014

REVIEW: Playhouse’s Grease ‘is beautiful to see’

CROSSVILLE — A rousing production of Grease erupts on the Mainstage of the Cumberland County Playhouse. It's loud and noisy! It's Rydell High School in 1959. This cast of 60, only five of whom are adults, will astound you. Britt Hancock and Leila Nelson as director and choreographer have every right to be proud of the magic we see. Many of these teenagers have been part of the dance program at the Playhouse since they were preschoolers. Hancock and Nelson have built on that background as well as bringing some formerly less visible talent to the forefront.

A bit of background on the story: Sandy Dumbrowski (Anna Burnett), a sweet young girl, has met Danny Zuko (Lenny Lively) while both were vacationing at the beach. We sense their days together were filled with the joy of being teenagers. Sometimes context is unexpectedly important in a relationship. Sandy finds herself in the same high school as Danny after her father is unexpectedly transferred to a new city. Danny has a reputation to uphold. His duck-tail hair slicked back, his leather garb, his Elvis moves, Danny is the leader of the T-Birds. Known for stealing hubcaps, being disrespectful of faculty, that is Danny's campus persona. He greets Sandy with surprising indifference. He is embarrassed by the appearance of her on his turf. She is puzzled to find a very different boy than the one she had so enjoyed during their “summer romance.”

Outside Rydell High School the company sings their Alma Mater but the Pink Ladies and the T-Birds parody it. Inside the school, still unaware of the presence of one another, Danny and Sandy sing of Summer Nights. Each shares exaggerated memories of those nights. The Pink Ladies are clearly the “in-crowd.” Does Sandy want to be one of them? They have the eye of the popular boys like the T-Birds. Complete with wigs and a variety of alluring costumes, they are DeAnna Etchison as Rizzo, Moriah McRae as Marty, Crystal-Marie Alberson as Frenchie and Katey Dailey as Jan. These Pink Ladies brought back memories of the in-crowd in my high school. Memories of your high school days may flood your mind as well. Katey Dailey, as Jan, is quite amazing as she pokes fun at herself and all of us who could lose a few pounds but cannot resist food. Moriah McRae, as Marty, shares her fine voice and clear diction as she sings Freddy, My Love. DeAnna Etchison, as Rizzo, commands the stage singing "Look at Me, I'm Sandra Dee." Later, gathered with her friends in Jan's basement, she admits "There Are Worse Things I Could Do."

Abbie Lee Webster, as Patty, encourages Sandy to be one of the cheerleaders. There, too, she could fit in. They practice Rydell's Fight Song together. Is that who she wants to be?

Danny's followers as part of the T-Birds include Logan Taylor as Roger, Malachi Banegas as Doody, Dakota Roysdon as Kenickie and Dasa'n Fant as Sonny. They, too, long to belong. Making Malachi Banegas look like tough guy Doody is not really possible. He brings a solo voice to the singing of "Those Magic Changes." Dakota Roysdon, as Kenickie, displays a fine voice as he sings "Greased Lightning." He is willing to get in trouble in order to fit in. Yet, we see glimpses of his softer side. Logan Taylor and Kately Dailey display their fine voices as they sing "Mooning" in a scene in the park. The scene of the T-Birds with tires shows their agility and abilities as dancers.

Tender moments in the show come as Sandy (Anna Burnett) clutching her Teddy bear, sings the duet "It's Raining on Prom Night" with the Radio Voice of Taya Howell.

Adding Angela Robbins as Miss Lynch to the scene increases the energy on stage. This CCHS teacher adds zest whenever she is part of the cast.

Moving through the production, whether en route to class or the prom is a large ensemble of Rydell High School students played by Darbi Banegas, Ellie Burnett, Victoria Housley, Brooklyn Kimbro, Chelsey Long, Demetra Drainas, Abagayle Parsons, Emily Swafford, Samantha Whitlock, Tana McDonald, Anais Villarus, Allie Crain, Ansley Toy, Brooklyn Smith, Katie Kaplan, Lily Barnes, Trey Norrod, Peyton White, Chandler Bohannon, Jared Sargent, Cameron Hankins, Katherine Harrison, Taya Howell, Lindsey Lively, Katelyn Dunn, Kelly Camera, Haven McCoy, Emily Graham, Madison Lee, Viki Avalos, Bryanne Thacker, Madyson Green, Kaali Kimbro, Felisha Atkinson, Baylee Fugate, Jordyn Baxley and Ransom Velker. Their voices blend as a well-trained ensemble. The ability of this sizable group to move skillfully up and down the steps as well as to maintain the carefully designed choreography throughout the production is beautiful to see.

Eleven of the ensemble members take on the roles of the “Beauty School Dropout Girls,” requiring a change in the way they present themselves on stage. There, outside the Burger Palace, ready to help them face a better future is a teen angel, Daniel Black, singing with them. 

The other adult cast members are Playhouse favorites: Michael Ruff, Chaz Sanders and Jason Ross who join Mason Angel and Perriana Evans in creating a truly unique prom scene.

Renee G. Luttrell has costumed this cast in appropriate garb of the era, with bobby socks, saddle shoes, poodle skirts or Elvis look-a-like garb. Their appearance adds much. Keeping the fast tempo on track and giving strength to each and every song is the six piece orchestra under the direction of Ron Murphy with Glen Holverson, Tony Greco, David Garrison, Dew Robbins and Chet Hayes. A special thank you note in the program leads me to suspect Lauren Marshall Murphy was a tremendous help on stage and in the orchestra pit.

This show runs through March 9. There are only twelve performances. Call 484-5000 to order your tickets. Show your support of the Playhouse and the life-enriching experiences offered to the youth of our area. The dedicated parents who arrange their lives so these young people can be in class or at rehearsal, must also be celebrated.

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