When most think of Grease, what immediately comes to mind are John Travolta as Danny Zuko, the mischievous greaser, and the sadly departed Olivia Newton-John as the virtuous Sandy in the classic 1978 film. But the movie is indeed based on a musical that debuted seven years earlier, which, like the subsequent film, highlights the simple, carefree nature of the 1950s at Rydell High School where students, no matter how macho or meek, weren’t immune to rock ‘n’ roll-inspired song-and-dance numbers. In the careful hands of McCoy Rigby Entertainment, it’s as feel-good a production in 2023 at La Mirada Theatre as it was in 1971. With a top-notch cast to boot, Jim Jacobs’ and Warren Casey’s book, music, and lyrics — along with annexed songs from 1978, including two by John Farrar and one by Scott Simon and Louis St. Louis — are guaranteed to invigorate audiences through not just the end of the musical’s run on February 12th but through the rest of the year.
The premise, more or less, romantically pits two cliques against each other: the “Pink Ladies,” represented by the gossiping and curious Jan, Frenchy, Marty, Rizzo and, of course, new senior transferee, Sandy, as well as the misbehaving “Burger Palace Boys” comprised of the leather-clad and roguish Roger, Kenickie, Sonny, Doody, and their leader Danny. When, at the outset, it’s revealed that Sandy had a summer fling with Danny, the awkwardness in the air transforms into a courtship that brings different sides out of both. Love is certainly in the air — with all the teenage drama that envelops them and the other principal characters.
The vibrantly effervescent sets by Stephen Gifford feed the imagination of the attendees who yearn to be transported back to an era they may or may not have lived through. Kari Hayter’s direction ensures that the stride of the actors remains purposeful throughout, Christopher M. Albrecht’s choreography contributes to feverishly fantastic dance sequences, and Ryan O’Connell’s musical stylings do an incontrovertible justice to recognizable songs like “Summer Nights,” “We Go Together,” “You’re the One That I Want,” and more.
The talented cast members demonstrate not only an ability to become their characters and move to the beat, but blow away observers with unrivaled vocals. As Sandy and Danny, respectively, Jenna Lea Rosen and Ryan Reyes more than do their due diligence as the leads. The two have an adorable chemistry and make the iconic personas their own. Rosen, who goes from bashful, to a clumsy cheerleader, and lastly a confidently sultry Sandy, also has an endless array of vocal tools that she especially uses in “Hopelessly Devoted to You” and the reprise of “Look at Me, I’m Sandra Dee.” Her control, breath support, and capacity to hold out long notes unwaveringly is a sense to behold. Similarly, Reyes’ Danny comes across as a likable rebel and knows how to garner laughs, particularly when he’s smoking a cigarette and being irreverent in his tracksuit. Not to mention, Reyes has a terrific timbre that comes through in the wistfully sung “Sandy” in Act II.
As remarkable as the leads are, though, the most valuable player – particularly in Act I – is Rianny Vasquez as the pigtailed Jan. Vasquez endears herself to the audience by being completely immersed as the charming Jan whose quirkiness and eccentricities are communicated with consistent facial expressions and an ingenious interpretation of the dialog. Jan and her love interest in the musical, Jalon Matthews’ Roger (who has a propensity for mooning rival gangs), nearly steal the show together in “Mooning.” Matthews, moreover, impresses with a superb charisma and by effortlessly transitioning to a mixed-voice falsetto in the vein of 1950’s crooners.
Another couple, Kenickie and Rizzo, are portrayed by Grant Hodges and Domonique Paton — but this, unlike the other relationships, is a love-and-hate one characterized by a mixture of unbridled passion and disagreement. Hodges appropriately gives Kenickie an edge and an ambition to turn his “Greased Lightin’” into the car of his dreams (featuring a vintage car on stage!). Paton’s Rizzo has her defenses up but underneath her hardened exterior is a wonderfully emotional being who captivates during “There Are Worse Things I Could Do.” Paton rings out her powerful notes like pointed arrows against seemingly anyone who has wronged her character; it is, undoubtedly, a breathtaking performance.
Not one song is performed any less than expertly. Melissa Musial, who portrays the spunky Marty, is similarly awe-inspiring with her emotive voice in “Freddy, My Love.” Similarly, as Doody, Steven-Adam Agdeppa wins over the crowd with guitar in hand and a mellifluously sung version of “Those Magic Changes.” Agdeppa’s skill in seamlessly accessing his top register is matched by Desmond Newson as the Teen Angel, who, in a bedazzling white suit, astonishes with riffs aplenty. During this scene, Bella Hicks’ Frenchy, makes an impact, too, by adeptly communicating her character’s desire to ultimately go back to beauty school.
Rounding out other supporting cast standouts are James Tolbert as the daffy but lively Eugene, Monika Peña as the bespectacled and fun-loving Patty Simcox, and finally Todd Adamson as the deejay Vince Fontaine who deserves special acclaim for revving up the audience before the show and bookending the festivities by leading everyone in a hand-jive routine following the bows.
Although Grease’s plot can be admittedly threadbare in certain areas — certainly helped by the addition of songs associated with the film — the elite performers of Rydell High’s class of 1959 make up for it with their world-class singing and by inviting audience members to have just as much fun as they are. There is a reason why Grease has evidently been the No. 1 requested show for some time at La Mirada Theatre, and if the overwhelmingly positive reactions on opening night are any indication, the audience’s gratitude will be conveyed loudly and clearly for weeks to come.
For more information about La Mirada Theatre’s production of Grease, and to purchase tickets, please visit: lamiradatheatre.com