Theater Review: GREASE (La Mirada Theatre)

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by Michael M. Landman-Karny on January 22, 2023

in Theater-Los Angeles,Theater-Regional


The year is 1959, when rock and roll was giving birth to the Sexual Revolution and the turbulent 1960s were about to burst on the scene. Record companies were releasing over a hundred singles every week and the country was about to radically change. In its original raunchy incarnation, Grease — which opened in a pitch perfect production at La Mirada Theatre on Saturday — is the story of America’s crossing over from the 50s to the 60s, throwing over repression and tradition for freedom, adventure, and pre-marital sex. It was very much similar to Hair in its original Off-Broadway incarnation.

Rianny Vasquez, Melissa Musial, Jenna Lea Rosen,
Monika Pena, and Domonique Paton

The Grease that most people know is the toothless but entertaining 1978 John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John teen-idol movie. The basic, late 1950s-set plot about the Rydell High School romance between greaser Danny Zucko and nice new girl Sandy Dumbrowski has always been the heart of the show, but there have been many changes in its many iterations since it opened in Chicago in 1971, with book, music and lyrics by Jim Jacobs and Warren Casey.

The licensed version of Grease currently playing at La Mirada may not have the revolutionary zeal of its original source material, but it is a highly entertaining night of musical comedy. Director Kari Hayter stages this endearing High-School musical as a celebration of youthful friendship and young love rather than rooting it in a historical culture-changing context.

Jenna Lea Rosen and Ryan Reyes

While most fans remember the movie’s Sandy and Danny love story, the stage show is an ensemble piece that lets every principal cast member shine. Hayter has cast a top-notch ethnically diverse cast of musical comedy pros. There were no weak links in this almost all-EQUITY cast.

Ryan Reyes plays Danny Zuko, the leader of the Burger Palace Boys, a group of hormonal, bad-boy greasers. Reyes exudes a sexy scoundrel charisma, his acrobatic dance moves a real highlight.

Jalon Matthews, Max Torrez, Grant Hodges (center),
Ryan Reyes, and Steven-Adam Agdeppa

Danny’s posse includes the hilarious Grant Hodges as smart-aleck Kenickie, the endearing Jalon Matthews as Roger the class clown, Steven-Adam Agdeppa as the boyish guitar-playing Doody, and Max Torrez as Sonny, the braggart.

Jenna Lea Rosen, (who impressed as Liesl at La Mirada’s Sound of Music) plays virginal nice girl Sandy, torn between her budding hormones and her conservative upbringing. Rosen’s acting is beautifully understated as one on the cusp of sexual and emotional maturity. Her beautiful crystal-clear soprano had this reviewer fighting back a tear during her rendition of “Hopelessly Devoted to You”, John Farrar’s country-pop song that was written for the movie.

The girls include a hilarious Bella Hicks as Frenchy, the not-so-bright aspiring beautician, a flirty Melissa Musial as Marty, the class beauty, and Rianny Vasquez as the awkward and shy Jan. Dominique Patton as Betty Rizzo, the seemingly tough bad girl, evokes Freda Payne with her beautifully soulful rendition of ”There Are Worse Things I Could Do”.

Domonique Paton

Desmond Newson channels Sam Cooke in his rendition of “Beauty School Dropout”, urging Frenchy to stay in school, and evokes Frankie Avalon as pop star Johnny Casino. Taleen Shrikian, as loud-mouthed Cha-Cha DiGregorio, steals her single scene with her eye-popping dancing and thrilling comic timing.

The entire cast sings beautifully, underscored by Ryan O’Connell’s rocking band. The demanding 1950s’ inspired choreography by Christopher M. Albrecht is spot-on and gives the cast a chance to show off their dance chops.

Domonique Paton, Melissa Musial, Rianny Vasquez, and Bella Hicks

The technicolor sets by Stephen Gifford are beautifully lit by Steven Young and blend well with the bright 1950’s costumes (Maine State Music Theatre). Sound design by Josh Bessom was crystal-clear and balanced.

There are worse things you can do than miss this production. While Jacobs and Casey may never take the place in the musical theatre cannon of Rodgers and Hammerstein, Adler & Ross or Kander & Ebb, this production is a grade-A example of this 1972 show’s evergreen popularity.

Ryan Reyes, Todd Adamson and Taleen Shrikian (center)
with Desmond Newson (top)

photos by Jason Niedle

Bella Hicks and Jenna Lea Rosen

La Mirada Theatre for the Performing Arts
14900 La Mirada Blvd. in La Mirada
Thurs at 7:30; Fri at 8; Sat at 2 & 8; Sun at 1:30 & 6:30
ends on February 12, 2023
for tickets, call 562.944.9801 or visit La Mirada Theatre

The Company

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