Theater Review: Got Chills? They’re Multiplying! ‘Grease’ At Cape Playhouse Is Electrifying

By: Bronwen Walsh

Topics: Local Theater

The full cast of “Grease,” Rydell High Class of ‘59. RICHARD MACLONE/CAPE PLAYHOUSE PHOTO

 

DENNIS — Some audience members were doing the twist at intermission. By the finale, fans were on their feet for a standing ovation that lasted the duration of the closing medley.

Not bad for a Wednesday matinee performance of “Grease,” the first indoor production at Cape Playhouse since 2019 and the premier under Tony Award-winning Artistic Director David Elliott, who signed on in January. Directed by Joyce Chittick, the musical runs through June 18 of the company’s 96th season.

Chittick, who began her acting career at 17 in “A Chorus Line,” starred in NBC’s competition reality show, “Grease: You’re the One That I Want.” She later would organize two national tours of “Grease,” an American classic in her playbook. This year is the 50th anniversary of the original Broadway production that opened in 1972.

Cape Playouse’s performance stars Ellie Smith as Sandy Dobrowski and Andrew Alstat as Danny Zuko. Alstat astoundingly catapulted across the hood of a scruffy '50 Nash Airflyte in his performance of “Greased Lightening,” and Smith’s solo of “Hopelessly Devoted to You” earned whistles of praise.

Ann-Ngaire Martin returns as Miss Lynch, the English teacher who diligently monitors the sock hop dance contest with a silver whistle. Choreographer Rick Faugno, Chittick’s husband, doubles as the ever-so-suave DJ Vince Fontaine.

Each of the T-Birds and Pink Ladies has flair, owning their authentic ‘50s costuming, hair style, and personality ticks. Assistant Choreographer Brooke Martino is Cha-Cha, whose high-pitched Latina accent pierces. Brooke Shapiro (Jan) and Chris Collins-Pisano (Roger) use their own body language to convey a little extra comic relief.

Danielle Hope (Rizzo) and Salisha Thomas (Frenchy) portray their characters’ confusion and angst in a charming Act One bedroom scene featuring Anissa Griego (Marty) and Lucy Rhoades (Patty) as fellow Pink Ladies.

As T-Birds, Christopher Tamayo (Sonny) delivers polished dance steps that meld with those of Vince Fazzolini (Eugene), JJ Neimann (Doddy) and Sean Watkinson (Kenickie).

Chittick said she had each of the actors create a backstory for their character, and they shared their character profiles during Zoom rehearsals. “That exercise fostered an interconnectedness that enriched their performances,” she said.

“This is an intimate house,” she added. “It was a luxury to work onstage.”

Season ticket holders at Cape Playhouse have had their tickets for “Grease” for three years. Save for some outdoor summer performances last year, Cape Playhouse went dark in 2020 and 2021 to contain the spread of COVID.

Several members of the “Grease” cast even tested positive earlier this month, forcing the cancellation of the first week of an intended three-week run. “People are anxious to get back,” said usher Patti Smith.

Musical Director Garrett Taylor and the “Grease” Orchestra pump unrelenting energy into the show. Kudos to the “Grease” orchestra, whose talent really ought to be visible to the house rather than off-stage, behind the curtain.

The actors themselves combine gymnastics, athleticism and precision into every group number. The choreography is tight and fluid. Particularly impressive during Act One is the T-Birds’ streetcorner performance of “Greased Lightening,” flanked by smooth, unobtrusive scene changes.

In Act Two, “Shakin’ at the High School Hop” takes the cast’s exuberance up a notch. J. Daughtry makes an especially imaginative entrance to the Burger Palace and delivers an exceptional performance as Teen Angel in “Beauty School Dropout.”

Aside from the occasional wince from sound board reverb, the full house gave the show a glowing reception. Oh, go on, admit it: thanks to the movie soundtrack, you know most-all the words to most-every song. Bust-out your hand jive, rise up off those hard wooden seats, and dare sing along.

“These kids have been belting out those songs until past midnight,” said Nora Carey, the company’s executive director, whom board member Robert Burns credited with getting the house ready for its long-awaited re-opening.

“Kudos to this company,” Chittick said during a post-matinee director’s “Talk Back” interview with Elliott. “These kids have done the work. Their joy and fun are infectious.”

 

DETAILS:

“Grease”

At the Cape Playhouse, 820 Main St./Route 6A, Dennis.

Through June 18

Information and reservations: www.capeplayhouse.com,l 508-385-3911