Youthful cast adds convincing note to `Grease' production

Musical: Merely Players makes Rydell High School of the 1950s come alive on the Chesapeake Arts Center stage.

Review

Arundel Live

Arts and entertainment in Anne Arundel County

April 22, 2005|By Mary Johnson | Mary Johnson,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

Merely Players' production of the 1970s stage and screen mega-hit Grease features a teenage cast - an asset most professional shows lack.

Again this weekend, Chesapeake Arts Center's Main Theater stage will be filled with lively high school students.

Veteran director Kevin Wheatley has assembled an excellent cast headed by teens with wide performing experience gained at such local training grounds as the Children's Theatre of Annapolis and Talent Machine.

Written by Jim Jacobs and Warren Casey, Grease re-creates the 1950s at Rydell High School where Danny Zuko returns from a summer romance with Sandy Dumbrowski to find her now enrolled at his school.

Danny projects a cool front for fellow Greasers - Sonny, Kenickie and Doody. A confused Sandy is befriended by the hip Pink Ladies - good-natured food addict Jan, man-charmer Marty, aspiring beautician Frenchy and worldly wise leader Rizzo.

Classics like "Summer Nights," "Shakin' at the High School Hop," "Greased Lightnin'" and "We Go Together" nicely move the action.

Chesapeake Arts Center's stage comes alive in the opening number, "Summer Nights," which features the entire cast back for another school year and reminiscing about summer vacation. Throughout the performance, they evoke the 1950s as they dance and sing exuberantly.

As Danny, Jonathan Nuckols is an outstanding song-and-dance man. Nuckols' equal is Sonny as played by Steve Love, a gifted Talent Machine and Merely Players alumnus, who recently appeared in several professional productions.

Strong performances also are given by Ashley Burke as Jan, Loghan Bazan as Marty, Brandon Deitrich as Kenickie, dance captain Jennifer Kohlhaver as Jenny and brilliant dancer Katy Catevenis, who brings her Talent Machine electricity to the role of Cha-Cha.

Special kudos are due Lindsay Bell, who delivers a total Rizzo complete with her character's blustering that almost covers her palpable insecurities. Bell sings a memorable show-stopping "There Are Worse Things I Could Do."

Katie Gardner is convincing as wholesome Sandy, frustrated at Danny's behavior that precipitates her physical transformation. Gardner dances and sings well, despite sometimes having trouble projecting over the band.

Most Grease productions I've seen had no live band, making me aware of what I'd missed on hearing the Merely Players musicians. They were headed by music director Marsha Goldsmith on keyboard, Joe Biddle and Ted McCadden on saxophone, Keenan O'Meara on guitar with Rob Drinkard on bass guitar and Katy Goldsmith and Mike Harrison on percussion.

Also contributing to the show's success are assistant director Ronnie Schronce, his wife, Katy, the choreographer, and production manager Debra Engler.

Grease continues at 8 o'clock tonight and tomorrow night and at 3 p.m. Sunday.

Reservations: 410-636-6597.

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