`Grease' no well-oiled machine with this cast, crew

Chesapeake Music Hall production has its highs offset by shortcomings

Review

Howard Live

July 20, 2000|By Phil Greenfield | Phil Greenfield,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

I liked the latest production of "Grease" being staged at Chesapeake Music Hall but didn't exactly love it.

The best thing about this version of Broadway's perennially popular '50s takeoff is the flair with which the show's funniest characters are brought to life.

The "Pink Ladies" are especially effective. Shannon Benil is a hoot as Jan, whose idea of haute cuisine is chasing a Hostess Twinkie with Italian Swiss Colony because it's a "dessert wine."

You also have to love Katy Smith, with her wonderful "Betty Boop" voice, as "Frenchy," the remarkably dumb beauty school dropout, and Sue Bell as Marty, the soft-spoken floozy whose "Freddy, My Love" is the show's musical highlight.

Leslie Rausch is delightfully overdone as the terminally annoying Patty Simcox and the lovely Amber Wright provides the show's most sizzling choreography as "Cha-Cha" DeGregorio.

Among the fellows, Charlie Rogers is hilarious as the hapless "Doody," also giving us the funniest hamster impression ever seen on the dinner theater's stage.

I was hooting at Jeff Hitaffer as "Rump," the "Mooning Champ of Rydell High," and at Jerry Vess as Eugene, the Steve Urkel of a previous generation.

The supporting players were so engaging, they wound up overshadowing Dean Davis' rather uneventful rendering of tough guy Danny Zuko, and the beautiful Jody Adkins' pleasantly innocuous portrayal of pleasantly innocuous Sandy Dombrowski.

The music hall cast an excellent "Rizzo" in Heather Marie Beck, who sang a terrific "Worse Things I Could Do" and was prickly as a pear as the vulnerable but hostile teen leader.

Most disconcerting about this "Grease" was the lighting that had significant portions of the show taking place in virtual darkness. The background was too dark for "Raining on Prom Night," the "Hand Jive" dance, and Danny's lament at the drive-in. Facial expressions were invisible at every turn.

I also suggest that harmonies be better balanced (in "Summer Nights," they drowned out the solos), and more carefully sung ("Greased Lightning" and "Rock 'n' Roll Party Queen" were a mess).

In short, you'll find great dancing and plenty of laughs, but the troupe has some work to do.

Sunday's show was notable in that it was the farewell performance of Chesapeake Music Hall mainstay David Reynolds, who is leaving to join the national touring company of "Annie."

Reynolds has been the finest, most versatile actor in our area for some years and no one deserves such good fortune more.

"Grease" is being staged Thursday, Friday and Saturday evenings and Sunday afternoons at the music hall at 339 Busch's Frontage Road in Annapolis. Tickets: 410-626-7515.

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