The Abilene Great Plains Theater is approximately 45 minutes from Aggieville. The company, which uses professional actors, is now in its 27th season. We drove out to see the first night of the second show of the year, a production of “Grease”.
Which turned out to be a lot of fun. The cast was so young and the setting so basic that we could have had our doubts. But it turned out that director Mitchell Aiello had a talented cast, good costumes (dig Pink Lady’s satin jackets), an effective band on stage, and a sense of how to get things done.
The net result was one of my favorite GPT productions, one that I guess will amuse anyone who isn’t already tired of the musical itself. By the way, the Abilene version seems to have closely followed the Broadway premiere, so it was a little less toothless “Grease” than the high school drama programs.
However, the history of the series is not the basis of its continued popularity. The evolution of a romantic relationship that began as a summer flirt is really not very interesting. What elevates the spectacle is the music.
Some of them parody the doo-wop music of the 1950s. And of course, the story takes place in 1959 in an urban high school (originally a Chicago), all in leather jackets, hops hosted by discs. -jockeys and hot rods. A beautiful Bel-Aire sat on the lawn outside the theater for early arrivals to examine.
But “Summer Nights”, “Greased Lightin ‘”, “We Go Together”, “Born to Hand Jive”, “Hopelessly Devoted” and “You’re the One That I Want” are just pop songs. What’s surprising is that there are so many memorable Pop songs in one show.
And while we didn’t already know the material, it’s unlikely that the audience on the first night will forget the performances of these numbers by the cast of GPT. The young women had surprisingly strong voices. All.
The men were hardly less strong singers. Kansas native and TCU graduate Lance Jewett (playing Danny) and Bear Manescalci (playing Doody) each accompanied each other on guitar while singing famous versions of songs.
The orchestra (keyboards, drums, electric guitar, and acoustic guitar) had the volume limiting problem that was hampering many live performances, but they almost fixed it, mostly by keeping drummer Jack Graefe away from the cymbals.
Live dancing in shows has been very strong here over the past decade. The cast of “Grease” danced well, and choreographer Melissa Ford (who was also solid on stage as omnivore Jan, partner of the well-played “mooner” by Matthew Glen Clark) had devised and rehearsed some enjoyable dance steps. for them.
And then there was the acting. Jewett and Olivia Ursu (as Sandy) were skilled enough to perform their roles, and Kimberly Carmacho had the voice and presence to play Rizzo. It was Beth Siegling’s turn as the goofy Frenchy that I think I remember, however. She was still active and she was always right in her reactions. I loved the scarf.
The divided stage method helped keep things going: to the right was an open space, to the left what could represent bleachers. The pairs of songs (two versions of the school’s alma mater, two covers of “I’m Sandra Dee” and the ending ensemble arrangements of “We Go Together”) helped suggest that the events are something more than just an olio.
But in reality, what happened was just good-humored nonsense. Pretty high-end nonsense, considering the performance. If you want an excuse to go out and have a nice evening, ask for tickets.