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THEATER REVIEW: “Grease” is the word at Onstage Playhouse

Get out those crinolines, ladies – the 50s are back at OnStage Playhouse in the teenybopper musical “Grease,” playing there through May 26. Thomas Fitzpatrick directs.

But before the festivities get underway, Miss Lynch (Laura Scarafone), stiff and straight in her pencil-thin suit, does the pre-show honors, welcoming us back to the reunion for the class of 1959 and warning about no photos: “If I see video, it’s your ass.”

“Grease” (with book, music and lyrics by Jim Jacobs and Warren Casey) has had several incarnations since its first appearance in Chicago in 1971. The original version was a bit raunchy and included bad language, smoking and drinking. There have been changes in music, language and even themes since. The 1978 film with John Travolta changed several songs and themes to accommodate Olivia Newton-John, who played Sandy.

Here’s your chance to see the original version which, for all its bad language, remains a show about innocence, love and cars (for us nostalgia freaks, OnStage provides a terrific miniature red Impala that “drives,” or at least rolls).

“Grease” is named for the northeastern subculture known as “greasers,” male gang members who tended to wear black leather jackets and slick their hair back with grease, gel or some sort of pomade.

But high school stories don’t change. “Grease” is set in the fictional Rydell High School, where cliques abound, girls wanna be where the boys are and boys covet those fine, flashy cars.

At Rydell, there’s a new applicant for membership in the Pink Ladies, auxiliary of the Burger Palace Boys. Sandy (Alyssa Anne Schechter), blonde and innocent, is the new girl in town.

She mentions in passing that she met a nice boy at the beach over summer. This turns out to be Danny (William Henry), leader of the Burger Palace Boys. Sandy is shocked to find that Danny ignores her when he sees her at Rydell. Will Sandy be able to bring him around?

Rydell has the usual collection of student types: fun-loving but none too bright Frenchy (Loraine Odierno), who drops out Rydell in favor of beauty school; Patty (Daryl Daley), the peppy cheerleader type; Marty (Alisa Williams), pretty, a wannabe sophisticate; Jan (Jennifer Purviance), funny, overweight and awkward, and Rizzo (Meredith Russo), leader of the Pink Ladies, with a big mouth, big breasts and a reputation to match.

The Burger Palace Boys, led by Danny, are Sonny (Manny Bejarano), the Italian-American wiseguy; Roger (Jimmy Christiansen), the prankster, who loves Jan; Kenickie (Michael V. Williams), the tough, skinny one, and the gullible Doody (Alan Aguilar). Decidedly not in the Boys gang is nerdy Eugene, played comically but more gay than nerdy by Oliver Willcox.

While “Grease” tackles such issues as teen pregnancy and gang violence, there’s nothing going on here that you haven’t seen before and can’t predict, but that’s not the point. This is about nostalgia and a trip back to those years some of us cherish and others would rather forget.

My favorite in this large cast is Christiansen, whose soaring tenor voice is riveting. Russo shows a fine voice as well, as do Schechter, Odierno, and Purviance. Carmina Vasquez does a fine comedy dance bit as Cha Cha DiGregorio, when she cuts a rug with Danny.

OnStage is often ambitious in its show choices. “Grease” is a surefire hit, but it still isn’t easy to do on the theater’s small stage. Fitzpatrick keeps the show moving nicely. Kudos to Barron Henzel (who also plays the parts of Teen Angel and Vince Fontaine) for his serviceable set design. Shelly Crickett’s costumes bring back memories, and Alisa Williams’ choreography conveys the idea, though space limitations preclude group dancing of any substantial size. It’s quality if not quantity in the two-man backup band, consisting of Kirk Valles and Aaron Erwin.

Get out those saddle shoes and crinolines – and that greasy kid stuff if you’re a guy – and get down with the kids of Rydell High.

The details

“Grease” plays through May 26 at 291 Third Ave. in Chula Vista.

Thursday through Saturday at 8 pm; Saturday at 2 pm.

For tickets, call (619) 422-7787 or visit HERE.

To read more reviews by SDGLN Theater Critic Jean Lowerison, click HERE.