“Grease The Musical” is grease lightning at the Playhouse; Presented by Millennial Theater Company – Business Journal Daily

By JEBallantyne Jr.
YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – It’s midsummer in Ohio and what musical is more summery than ‘Grease The Musical’?

Written by Jim Jacobs and Warren Casey with additional songs by John Farrar, this iconic Americana track is set in 1959 at the fictional Rydell High School (actually dubbed that in honor of 50s heartthrob Bobby Rydell). The musical touches on teen love, greasers and other teenage complexities with a high-energy musical score that has you tapping your feet throughout.

Since several songs from the film have now been incorporated into the musical, the foster mother the number (opener) is followed by “Grease” (from the movie). The show kicks off strong with a song that was a hit for Frankie Valli. The audience then meets the Burger Palace Boys led by Danny Zuko and their counterparts, The Pink Ladies.

Ryan Lamb presents a strong and believable Zuko. From his first appearance, Lamb owns the stage whenever he is present. His strut, line delivery, and character choices are all spot on. Musically it is top notch and is at its best with its solo number, “Sandy”, in Act II. But her tough exterior also gives way to likable weak points, especially when it comes to “new girl in town,” Sandy Dumbrowski.

Sandy, a fish out of water, in her new school, is played well by Emily Choleva. Choleva matches Lamb with every move. The two were cast perfectly opposite each other. Choleva plays the awkwardness of the “new girl” with perfection and develops the character well through her inner conflicts. She has several vocal highlights, including “Raining On Prom Night” and “Hopelessly Devoted”.

The supporting cast members also shine. Tommy DeLuca’s Kenickie is full of energy and having fun with “Greased Lightning”; George Maillis as Doody is a fun character and does well with “Magic Changes”; and Daniel Chiaberta is a hit as Eugene with great comedic timing and some athletic dance moves. Ben Doss as Roger and Gene Metro as Sonny round out the Burger Palace Boys.

On the side of the Pink Ladies, Sarahh Kinser is doing well with Rizzo but something seemed to be missing from the character. Rizzo, sarcastic and pessimistic, came out a bit light in the sarcasm category. She had opportunities to stretch the character further but failed multiple times. Natalina Kazimir as Marty gave a spitting performance and was wisely front row in most dance numbers; Jan, played by Kaleigh Ceci, had a good laugh, especially with her endless appetite for food (anyone’s food); Rebecca Williams excelled as Frenchy; and Brianna Rae Quinn gave a solid performance as Patty Simcox. A job well done must also go to the actress who portrayed the uncredited Cha-Cha DiGregorio on the show.

Another uncredited actor certainly deserves attention. Although only appearing in two scenes, he executed his blocking and character perfectly. Although I’ve never been referred to by name, I’ve never seen an actor in my life so completely overshadow everyone on stage by doing absolutely nothing.

Other cast highlights were Courtney Martin as Miss Lynch; Ryan Stewart as Teen Angel; Dominic Adams as Johnny Casino and Liz Amstutz as the Prom Night Soloist for It’s raining on prom night. WAXX Radio DJ, Vince Fontaine is most skillfully played by Mark Williams capturing the essence of old fifties radio DJs of the era.

Director Joe Asente has assembled a remarkable cast and an even more remarkable production. His direction was creative and precise, and his production design served the production very well. Theater ghosts tell me that it lost its musical director to illness five days before the opening as well as its stage manager due to a family emergency. To still put on a production as strong as he did with those huge setbacks speaks volumes for everyone involved.

Musical director Anthony Ruggiero proved to be a cast with incredible vocal quality from start to finish. And above all, the balance between the group and the actors on stage was perfect. Choreographer Aubrie Morrison created fast, exciting numbers that helped keep the evening moving and accurately reflected the 1950s era.

The casting worked well with a quick and well-rehearsed online delivery. The only misstep was that occasionally the delivery got a little cartoonish, but seemed to recover whenever it appeared. The set, designed by Asente, was a two-tiered unit with a multi-colored lit proscenium with bleachers that turned on, off, or together as needed.

“Grease the Musical” is one of those shows that most people have seen multiple times. They know the show and the characters. For those of us who were there in the 1950s, it brings back good old memories. This production did not disappoint. If you missed opening night, you still have a few performances left.

Whether you’re “old” like me or just a little bopper, plan on heading to the Playhouse for the Millennial Theater Company’s production of this old classic.“

“Grease The Musical” will continue on July 30, August 5 and 6 at 7:30 p.m.; JJuly 31, August 7 at 2:30 p.m..

Top of the photo: Emily Choleva and Ryan Lamb play Sandy and Danny in the Millennial Theater Company’s production of “Grease.”

Copyright 2022 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.

Robert M. Larson