If you ask me…
- Tom Holehan
“Grease” Under the Stars in New Canaan
“Grease”, the much-produced 1950s rock and roll musical and “A Midsummer Night’s Dream”, the Shakespeare perennial (especially at this time of year), are both being offered al fresco this summer by the Summer Theatre of New Canaan and Connecticut Free Shakespeare. Pack your picnic basket and enjoy the night breezes...if not the productions!
Jim Jacobs and Warren Casey struck musical theatre gold with “Grease”, which opened on Broadway in 1972, had a few revivals, countless National Tours and a certain blockbuster film version whose popularity continues to baffle me to this day. The simple story about some not-too-tough high school greasers and the women they love includes the main romance between virginal new girl Sandy Dombrowski (STONC’s perky Sharon Malane) and bad boy ladies man Danny Zuko (Christian Libonati, working awfully hard). Complications, as they say, ensue and the dubious moral of “Grease” still seems to say: Embrace your inner slut and the boys will love you. Nice.
At STONC, the cast is knocking themselves out to entertain and the mugging and extreme “face acting” going on is broad enough to be comfortably observed from the parking lot. Director Melody Meitrott Libonati leaves little to the imagination and everyone seems to be trying just a little too hard. It would have been nice if the actors were encouraged to take a step back and find some truth in these cartoonish characters. You’d also like them to relax a tad and enjoy their characters instead of forcing them so on us with such gusto.
The nifty score, however, is still fun to hear and audience members sang along with the familiar, infectious music. The most successful performance of the evening was Cristina Farruggia as mean girl (with a heart of gold, ‘natch!) Betty Rizzo. Miss Farruggia may look mature enough to join the cast of “The Real Housewives of New Jersey”, but her powerhouse singing of “There Are Worse Things I Could Do” late in act two may be the production’s highlight. Adam Hill’s Teen Angel does a decent job with “Beauty School Dropout” finding the wit within the lyrics and Elysia Jordan brings real feeling to “Freddy My Love”. David Hancock Turner’s compact but pistol-hot orchestra continues to impress and this “Grease” manages to entertain despite itself.
“Grease” continues at the Summer Theatre of New Canaan through August 11. For further information or ticket reservations, call the theatre box office at 203.966.4634 or visit: www.stonc.org. For further information call 203.916.8066 or visit: www.ctfreeshakespeare.org.
Tom Holehan is one of the founders of the Connecticut Critics Circle, a frequent contributor to WPKN Radio’s “State of the Arts” program and Artistic Director of Stratford’s Square One Theatre Company. He welcomes comments at: email@example.com. His reviews and other theatre information can be found on the Connecticut Critics Circle website: www.ctcritics.org.