Grease lightning

LST season opener fast-paced, fun

Alex Herman and Eliisa Gladwell star as Danny and Sandy in the production of “Grease” at the Lake Superior Theatre in Marquette that begins Tuesday, with performances continuing over the course of three weeks. (Peggy Frazier photo)

It is officially summer now that Lake Superior Theatre’s season is kicking off. “Grease” opens Tuesday for a three-week run and it is a great way to launch the season.

“Grease” is the most-produced and most popular musical in America, and with good reason. Fifties nostalgia, catchy and recognizable music, great dance numbers and fun characters make for a very entertaining evening and Lake Superior Theatre’s production of “Grease” delivers.

A brief description of the show for those unfamiliar with it: It’s 1959, and Rydell High School’s senior class is in rare form. The too-cool-for-school “Burger Palace Boys” are stealing hub-caps and acting tough and their gum-snapping, chain-smoking “Pink Ladies” are looking hot in bobby sox and pedal pushers.

At the heart of the story is the romance between hot-rodding gangster Danny Zuko and the sweet new girl in town, Sandy Dumbrowski. They had a secret romance in summer, but now back in the context of school, peer-pressure and cliques make their love a bit more complicated.

Danny Zuko is played well by Alex Herman. He has the right look and swagger and possesses a comfort and ease onstage that draws you into his performance. He loves to be onstage and you can feel it. His singing is strong and he embodies the bad-boy with a heart character of Danny perfectly.

His love interest Sandy was perfectly cast. Eliisa Gladwell has the poise and charm to play the good girl Sandy to a T and has a remarkable singing voice to back it all up. The chemistry between the two of them carries their scenes and numbers together admirably.

As a whole, this cast is great and I will undoubtedly forget to mention a performance worthy of mention, but I will do my best.

Sophie Shahbazi is excellent in the role of Rizzo, Rydell High’s resident bad girl. Her vocal talents are spot on in “Look at me, I’m Sandra Dee,” and “There are Worse Things I Could Do.” Always a pleasure to hear her onstage. Emily Burbey turns in a very solid performance as Frenchy. She captured the essence of her role and sang and danced well. Patrick McCommons was outstanding as Doody. Again, strong character work and great vocals really made him stand out in this strong cast. And then there is Megan Ludwig in the role of Marty. She is cute as a button, full of life and energy, and stops the show with her vocals in “Freddy, My Love.” Such a powerful voice in a tiny package. So good.

Rounding out the principal players are Devin Murphy as Kenickie, the proud owner of a jalopy he calls Greased Lighting, Lilith Kontos playing Jan, again full of life and energy that just flows from her into the audience, Erin Potter as the cheerleader Patty, Regan McKay as Cha-Cha, and Isaac Lazenby as Sonny. Of special note is Alec Boehmer who plays Vince Fontaine, hype DJ at WAXX radio. Alec is far too young to have ever experienced the high energy AM rock and roll DJs that used to fill the airwaves, but he has the voice and mannerisms down. Great fun. Kudos to veteran performer Bobby Glenn Brown for playing the Teen Angel, Frenchy’s guardian angel.

The creative team headed by Director David Dagenais is to be complimented. David has directed a taut and well-paced show. He also served as the music director and the cast is definitely better for that. The chorus work and solo work was all great. The choreography by Jill Grundstrom was fun and period correct and utilized every inch of the tight stage that the boathouse has very well. There are ample reasons that she is probably the busiest choreographer in theater in the area. Steve McClain’s set also made great use of the limited pace and options that the boathouse offers and the colors and design just popped. It afforded levels and good sightlines. Not an easy space to design for, but Steve handles it well. Costume design was a high point of the creative staff’s efforts. Suzanne Shahbazi has an eye for color, period and detail. She sweats the details until everything is right. Sound and lights were designed by Dan Zini and Jim Pennell. Dan assures that the audience canhear everything without blasting you out of the theater, and Jim made good use of the new lighting equipment that was just installed this season at LST.

Overall, a very entertaining evening and a solid start to a great season which also includes “Schoolhouse Rock Junior,” presented by Superior Arts Youth Theatre, “Steel Magnolias” directed by Denise Clark, and “Magic to Do Superior Cabaret,” a variety cabaret directed by Jeff Bruning. I recommend buying your tickets now for these shows. If past experience is any indication, most will sell out as the season and word of mouth builds.

Tickets for “Grease” and all the other shows this season are available at all NMU EZ Tickets outlets, online at nmu.edu/tickets, or by phone at 906-227-1032. If all online tickets have been sold, Lake Superior Theatre does have a wait list. You can get more information about that at 906-227-7625. Performances are at 7:30 p.m. Make sure you plan ahead as you do have a little walk from the Lower Harbor Park parking lot to get to the theater.

Treat yourself and your family to an evening of live theater. “Grease” is the perfect place to start. Fun. Great music. Fast paced. You are sure to enjoy.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Martyn Martello is a local director and actor.