Friday June 23rd 2017

“The Original Grease”

For those of you who are unfamiliar with the original “Grease”, long before the movie version- American Theater Company has brought it back for it’s 40th anniversary. Yes, way back, in 1971, a little musical play opened in Chicago called “Grease” written by tw local boys, Jim Jacobs and Warren Casey. The place was Kingston Mines on Lincoln Avenue. Back in the original version, it was the tenth class reunion and Miss Lynch and Dr. Devin were the host and hostess at this function, but many years have passed and so , understanding that by now they would either be long gone or so old they couldn’t stay up this late, Eugene and Patty Simcox open up the festivities of the class reunion of the infamous Rydell High School ( the original play is based on Taft High located on the northwest side of Chicago). Most everyone knows the movie version and of course several stage variations have played over the years and even this one, entitled “The Original Grease” is a modified version that fits today’s values and shows these kids as real working class family kids rather than the sugary sweet version we have watched over these years. American Theater Company is known for producing new and classic works dealing with the American life and lifestyle, so isn’t it perfect for them to bring back a true American story about real American kids ( in Chicago, no less) at a time when we need to recall a more simple time. This is a highly energetic production that is almost true to the original but with some modifications and of course the hardest part, erasing the movie and later stage versions that we have implanted in our brains. Under the direction of the skilled PJ Paparelli, with splendid choreography by Jim Corti and musical direction by the very talented Roberta Duchak, we return to the early days of Chicago- Riverview, Marshall Fields, Drive in burger places, Polk Brothers,Carson’s, The Palmer House, all Chicago landmark names and we meet some old and new characters, some from the original that got lost in the movie version who have now returned to make the story closer to what was penned for the original.

New songs have been added and of course Sandy is NOT from anywhere out of the country, but from Joliet  which in the days before the highways, could have been another planet! Foster Beach is where she met Danny, who now has his own song ( a solo, that was recently added from some notes for the original) and “Foster Beach” is their song ( not “Summer Loving”). “Look At Me, I’M Sandra Dee” is still a song in the play, but of course very different and “We Go Together” is the finale in Act One wit “Grease” being the finale song. This production is a  true treat for anyone of my generation for sure and those who have loved “Grease” over the years will find this experience to be as if they were there for the original. While they think they know these characters from seeing them in the past, these Northwest siders are truly the real thing and make the movie version seem prudish and tame- Yes, there is “language” in this production- they speak and do what kids did and said during this amazing era, and what an era it was!

The cast that has been assembled for this production is dynamite!, with a capital D! The Pink Ladies; Ja n( Sadieh Rifai is wonderful in this role),Marty ( the very sexy Carol Rose), Frenchy ( the adorable Jessie Fisher) and Rizzo ( a powerful performance by Jessica Diaz). Of Course at the end Sandy ( Kelly Davis Wilson) becomes a Pink Lady as well. The Burger Palace Boys; Led by Danny Zuko ( Adrian Aguilar will make you forget that Travolta guy as he makes the real Northwest side Danny come to life), Kenicki ( a sharp performance by Tony Clarno), Doody ( Bubba Weiler, who has gown up right before our eyes on Chicago stages),Roger ( Rob Colletti), Sonny ( the hysterical Patrick DeNicola) and Miller ( deftly handled by Tyler Ravelson). Other major payers are Alaina Mills as Patty Simcox, Hannah Gomez as Cha-Cha DiGregorio,Adam Shalzi as Eugene, Peggy Roeder as Miss Lynch ( who gets her own song), and Michael Accardo, Tom Lally,Mark Shallow,Anthony Dale Kolton, Susan Fay,Alan Barinholtz,Judi Schindler,Pat Chrisitanson and Danon Dastuguein all of the other roles, both today and 1959! It appeared that this marvelous troupe of performers has ad much fun as we did. Yes, the language and hand gestures might offend some, so I say to those people, this may not be the show for you and your family. However, if you want to witness pure magic in a warehouse theater with a talented cast that can sing, dance and act, seeing this production will be a “trip” for you. Either a “trip” down memory lane allowing us to think back to our own high school memories , hanging out with our buds, our first time ( you know what I mean) and the days when we were pretty stress free. For thos of you who grew up on the “other version”, this will give you a chance to see what the late 50’s were really like as this is a pretty accurate picture of the times.

What makes this production one that “must be experienced” is the overall picture it paints which is aid greatly by the wonderful set (Walt Spangler) great lighting ( Jesse Klug and Mac Vaughey), props by Doug Kupferman and costumes by Melissa Torchia. When you add the hair and make up design ( it couldn’t be the 50’s/60’s without outrageous hair) Kaity Lucina and Miles Polaski’s sound is just the icing on the cake. The  five piece band  has the right sound and never outshines the vocalists allowing us to hear every phrase of this historical production- Michel Daly,Ethan Deppe,Jeremy Fink,Michael Kennedy and Cody Siragusa- you rock”!

“The Original Grease” will continue at American Theater Company, located at 1909 W. Byron Street ( just East of Lincoln Avenue and South of Irving Park ) through June 26th ( but I have an idea, they will add more performances as I can see the whole town getting out for this one) with performances as follows:

Thursday and Fridays at 8 p.m.,Saturdays at 3 and 8 p.m. and Sundays at 3 p.m.

Tickets range from $45-$50 ( an extraordinary bit of history and theater  for such a low cost) and can be purchased at the box office, by phone at 773-409-4125 or online at www.atcweb.org  WARNING: This is the ADULT version of the show

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