A celebration of innocent rebels

"Grease" at Toby's Dinner Theatre is a pleasant reminder of pajama parties, bobby socks and beehive hairdos.

Howard Live

Arts and entertainment in Howard County

July 29, 2005|By William Hyder | William Hyder,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

Looking back on our high school days, we might shake our heads and wonder what made us act the way we did. Grease, the current attraction at Toby's Dinner Theatre, could provide the answer.

The show opened off Broadway in 1972, quickly moved to a Broadway theater and stayed there for years. It deals with the lives of members of the Class of 1959 at Rydell High School. (The name is a sly reference to a pop singer of the time, Bobby Rydell.)

Grease is an exercise in nostalgia, reminding the audience of pajama parties, amateur ear piercing, the first cigarette, bobby socks, beehive hairdos, drive-in movies and boys wearing pompadours pumped up with - here is where the title comes in - hair grease.

The show's biggest attraction is its music. Jim Jacobs and Warren Casey provide a score loaded with songs that recapture the early rock 'n' roll style of the 1950s. These are given spirited choreography by director Ray Hatch and energetic performances by Toby's bright young cast.

The Rydell kids are like teens of any generation, rebelling against parents and teachers, rejecting the adult responsibilities that await them. They live a tribal life based on gangs and cliques. They put on attitude. They insist on their individuality but ostracize anyone who is different.

At Toby's, Margo Seibert and Evan Hoffman play Sandy Dumbrowski and Danny Zuko, respectively, the roles portrayed by Olivia Newton-John and John Travolta in the 1978 movie.

Danny is a cool guy, the leader of a gang called the Burger Palace Boys. When the boys aren't brawling with one another, they're stealing hubcaps and having rumbles with other gangs. The audience is supposed to find them lovable.

Sandy arrives at Rydell from another school. She is more innocent than the Rydell girls and has better manners and taste. She falls in with a pack called the Pink Ladies, whose chief interests are the Burger Palace Boys.

Danny and Sandy fall in love, but differences in behavior and outlook cause friction between them. The show's lightweight story line is concerned mainly with keeping the two apart until the finale.

Danny acts rudely to Sandy so he won't look weak in front of his gang. Sandy breaks up with him. Sandy won't let Danny go too far with her at a drive-in movie. This drives Danny away. And soon.

There is some brief suspense when Betty Rizzo, the toughest of the Pink Ladies, suspects that she is pregnant. Rizzo, impressively portrayed by Jill Shullenbarger, provides a serious note by confessing, in a dramatic musical number, that her attitude is a defense to hide her insecurity.

Sandy realizes that good behavior is a disadvantage at Rydell High and is ruining her chances with Danny. She solves the problem by plunging into his way of life. She cuts her hair, puts on flashy makeup, dresses in sexy clothes and starts acting rude and brassy.

It works, and the show has its happy ending.

The other Pink Ladies are played by Celia Blitzer, Heather Marie Beck and Rosie Sowa. Chris Sizemore, Dean Davis, J. P. Gulla and Shawn Kettering are the Burger Palace Boys.

Amanda Parker portrays a pompom girl, Andrew Frace a neighborhood nerd, Denise Steadman a teacher and Jonathan Jackson a band leader.

Lisa Ferris makes a late entry as someone's blind date, and Michael Kenny has a dual role as a disc jockey and an angel.

The costumes by Larry B. Munsey are suitably 1950s-ish - white T-shirts and blue jeans for the boys, pedal pushers and flared skirts with petticoats for the girls. A scene at the prom allows the boys to put on jackets and the girls to appear in fluffy evening gowns.

In a time when drugs and guns are major concerns in American high schools, Grease is a pleasant reminder of a more innocent age.

Toby's Dinner Theatre, 5900 Symphony Woods Road, Columbia, presents Grease through Sept. 4. Doors open at 6 p.m. Monday through Saturday; 5 p.m. Sundays. Doors open at 10:30 a.m. Sunday and Wednesday for matinees. Reservations are required. Information or reservations: 410-730-8311 or 800-888-6297.

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