Opening night of the Duluth Playhouse’s musical “Grease” had lots of women screaming, hooting and whooping, both onstage and in the audience. And that included Amber Burns, the show’s masterful director/choreographer, who was clearly enjoying this joyful celebration of the ’50s as much as everyone else.
With Burns’ sure-handed direction and featuring her creative choreography, Danny, Sandy, the Pink Ladies, the Burger Palace Boys and the class of 1959 at good ol’ Rydell High tore the place up on a particularly beautiful Duluth summer night.
The pace was fast, and the iconic songs just kept on coming: “Greased Lightning,’” “Born to Hand Jive,” “We Go Together” … with audience members often singing along to their favorites.
Not only the leads, but each of the supporting players had chances to shine and show off their powerhouse voices and their dancing feet, flying from beginning to end.
Highlight solos from the supporting players included Jake Nelson as Doody with “Those Magic Changes,” “Freddie My Love” from Jorie Ann Kosel playing Marty, and Corey Reilly as the feathered and sequined crowd favorite, Teen Angel, in “Beauty School Dropout.”
Equity actress Christina Stroup had all the grit and toughness needed to nail the show’s bigger-than-life, resident bad girl, Rizzo. While Stroup had a strong solo with Act I’s “Look at Me, I’m Sandra Dee,” she did, however, push a little hard on her big Act II solo, “There Are Worse Things I Could Do.”
Matias Valero and Jenna Kelly are perfectly cast as Danny and Sandy. Valero had the prerequisite sexiness, swiveling Elvis-like hip moves, and nice vocal moments, particularly in his duets with Sandy, and in his lament of being “Alone at the Drive-In Movie.”
Kelly had undoubtedly the strongest voice onstage, especially shining in one of the evening’s standout moments with “Hopelessly Devoted to You.” She looked and acted every inch the adorable teenager, all blonde curls and pastels to start, and then absolutely rocked her transformed, black leather and spandex bombshell in the finale.
Under the direction of Kyle Picha, the smoking pit band, in their perch above the stage, killed the well-known rock ’n’ roll score, without ever swallowing up the singers. The saxophone solos from Nate Anderson-Clark were absolutely magnificent.
The production team was decidedly firing on all cylinders here, too: Curtis Phillips’ classic ’50s scenic design with simple but effective set pieces; Jeff Brown’s colorful, evocative lighting; period-perfect poodle skirts, cardigan sweaters, leather jackets and blue jeans from costume designer Peg Ferguson; and spot-on beehives, pony tails, slicked-back greased hair and stylized makeup by Alexandra Jost.
Oh, and do try the small batch, handcrafted ice cream from the new local Crank and Dasher, available in the lobby. I heartily recommend the “You’re the One That I Want,” salted caramel flavor!
Sheryl Jensen is a former teacher, magazine editor and director. She reviews theater for the News Tribune.
If you go
What: Duluth Playhouse production of “Grease”
Where: NorShor Theatre, 211 E. Superior Street
When: July 11-28. Thursday-Saturday at 7:30 p.m., Sundays at 2 p.m. ASL-interpreted performance July 18.
Tickets: $35-$50. Student rush (ages 25 and younger): $25 at the door with valid student ID the night of a performance only. Call 218-733-7555 or visit duluthplayhouse.org.
The show does contain some strong language and suggestive content.