Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Florida - Southern

Grease Is The Word

Melanie Penn, Xander Chauncey, Trista Moldovan, and Jamey Isenor
Actors' Playhouse opens it's 10th Anniversary Season at the Miracle Theatre in Coral Gables with the 1950s rock 'n' roll musical, Grease. Who can forget this look at 1959 Rydell High? Good girls in poodle skirts, alongside the not-so-pure silk-jacketed Pink Ladies. Nerds in glasses, and tough guys T-Birds in tight jeans and T-shirts. America's love affair with the 1950s is legendary. If you are longing for a dose of nostalgia, this is the show to see.

This hybrid production of Grease may be especially appealing to those of you who are fond of the movie version of the musical as it contains four songs written for the movie not in the original script. The 1979 film version of Grease, starring John Travolta and Olivia Newton John, has regained popularity as it has just celebrated its 25th anniversary. Musical theatre purists may object to the insertion of the songs, however, particularly as the song You're The One That I Want weakens the end of the show. Most people are more familiar with the movie version than the original stage version, however, and Actors' Playhouse is banking on the fact that their audience would leave unhappy if they were not treated to the songs they remember so well.

Jamey Isenor as Danny Zuko is the beefcake epitome of a teen idol. Complete with mile-high slicked back hair, he sings well and is quite funny in the drive-in scene, though slightly wooden in a few other acting moments. It is doubtful that one could find a better Kenickie anywhere than actor Xander Chaunchey. He not only sings and acts the part well, but dances way beyond the expectations of this role. He truly makes Greased Lightnin' his, and continually shines in all of the dance numbers. Chaunchey sustained an injury late in the second act of opening night, which hopefully was only temporary, as the show would surely suffer without him.

Melanie Penn is a disappointing Sandy. Instead of wholesome and sweet, her Sandy seems moody and brittle. She is not possessed of a strong stage presence except when she is singing. And even then, although she has power and emotion, she also has some vocal placement problems - sometimes singing with an accent she does not have while speaking. A handful of errantly sung notes in Hopelessly Devoted to You stuck out like the sorest of thumbs. Fortunately, she is surrounded by the excellent singing and energy of her fellow cast members.

Knockout Amanda Baker as Marty does a wonderful job with Freddy, My Love. Trista Moldovan as Rizzo has the right toughness but is missing some of the fire. Henry Gainza, as Roger, sings well and is matched nicely with a hysterical Heather Jane Rolff as Jan. Brian M. Golub as Doody nearly stops the show with an incredible Those Magic Changes, singing the Sam Harris revival version better than Sam Harris. Vincent D' Elia as Teen Angel is talented and enjoyable, but the Elvis-like quality comes off as a tongue-in-cheek parody of the style of the time period, thus presenting a stylistic inconsistency with the rest of the show.

On the technical end, the Miracle Theatre stage seemed to have some dead lighting spots throughout the show that unnecessarily darkened sections of the stage. And, though this production has a real car on stage, we never get to see it transformed into the souped-up version of Greased Lightnin' as is normally done on stage in the show. The music, as directed by Eric Alsford, is well played, and the sound system clearer than any of the shows previously viewed at this theatre. A night of fun music and good energy!

Grease was written by Jim Jacobs and Warren Casey, and opened on Broadway in 1972. It received seven Tony Award Nominations, and in 1979 was the longest running musical on Broadway. The film version of Grease contains four additional songs featured in the Actors' Playhouse production: Sandy, by Scott Simon & Louis St. Louis, You're The One That I Want and Hopelessly Devoted To You, by John Farrar, and the movie title song, Grease, by Barry Gibb. Grease went on to become the highest grossing movie musical ever. In 1994 it was successfully revived on Broadway.

Grease will appear at Actors' Playhouse through November 13, 2005. The theatre is located at 280 Miracle Mile in Coral Gables, FL. Actors' Playhouse is a professional regional theatre hiring local and non-local Equity and non-Equity actors. Known for it's large scale musicals, the theatre has received nearly 50 Carbonell Awards including "Best Producer of a Musical." The theatre produces it's musicals, comedies and children's theatre shows year round, and offers a full range of classes for all experience levels. Information and tickets may be obtained by contacting the theater at their box office at (305) 444-9293, or on line at

Danny Zuko: Jamey Isenor
Sandy Dumbrowski: Melanie Penn*
Kenickie: Xander Chaunchey*
Betty Rizzo: Trista Moldovan*
Roger: Henry Gainza*
Marty: Amanda Baker*
Doody: Brian M Golub*
Jan: Heather Jane Rolff*
Sonny LaTierri: Christopher A. Kent*
Frenchy: Lisa Minett
Eugene Florczyk: Sean Russell*
Patty Simcox: Lisa Manuli
Teen Angel / Vince Fontaine: Vincent D' Elia*
Cha-Cha DiGregorio / Radio Singer: Chrissi Arditto*
Miss Lynch: Stacy Schwartz*

Director: David Arisco
Music Director: Eric Alsford
Choreographer: Barbara Flaten
Scenic Design: M.P. Amico
Costume Design: Mary Lynne Izzo
Lighting Design: Patrick Tennent
Sound Design: Nathan Rausch
Production Stage Manager: Carl Waisanen

* Designates member of Actors' Equity Association: the Union of Professional Actors and Stage Managers in the United States.

Photo: Ruben Romeu

See the current theatre season schedule for southern Florida.

-- John Lariviere

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