By ALAN SMASON, WYES-TV Theatre Critic (“Steppin’ Out”)
If there were any indication that the worst of the pandemic is now behind us and that a return to what we formerly considered “normal” is around the corner, then look no further than the filled seats, boisterous laughter and deafening applause emanating from the Rivertown Theaters for the Performing Arts main stage.
With its latest production of Grease, there is every indication that the long shuttered and socially-distant world to which we have become accustomed, is on its way out.
And what a wonderful way to mark the occasion than a show that has showed it has staying power and longevity, having started out as a bawdy little show in Chicago in 1971 that triumphed on Broadway many times and left a lasting impression when transformed into an iconic movie in 1978.
Four of the most well-known songs in the current production – “Grease,” “Hopelessly Devoted to You,” “Sandy” and “You’re the One That I Want” – were added just for the 1978 movie and are now part of the standard Grease repertoire. That’s why John Farrar, who wrote two of those tunes, is given credit as a composer and lyricist.
In fact, the movie starring John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John may have done more to alter and clean up the language from its original rendition than any other factor.
But it wasn’t always that way.
As an example, in “Greased Lightnin'” the intent of original writers Jim Jacobs and Warren Casey was more about how far the boys driving the car would get with with their girlfriends than the actual distance the vehicle would traverse.
With Kelly Fouchi as director, there was no doubt this Grease would be all about choreography and sustained dance moves accompanied by powerful, harmonious singing. Fouchi does not disappoint as she cast the show with 17 named roles and another 12 members of the ensemble.
Cannon Jewel as Danny Zuko and Arianna D’Antonio as Sandy Dumbrowski are delightful in the leading roles with support from their fellow T-Birds and Pink Ladies.
Garrin Mesa as Kenickie is praiseworthy for his work, especially in “Greased Lightnin’. Other T-Birds members Sonny Latierri (Christian Hoffmeister) and Roger (Casen Gatusso) are also great in support.
The Pink Ladies are also well represented talent-wise with Tess Fouchi (Betty Rizzo), Emma Fagin (Marty) and Emmy Johnson (Jan) all turning in terrific performances in songs like “Freddy, My Love” and “Look at Me, I’m Sandra Dee.”
As Frenchy, Lauren McMahon is also a standout as a Pink Lady and enjoys the spotlight opposite Marc Fouchi in his one number in the show as Teen Angel, “Beauty School Dropout.”
In song after song – from “Grease” to “Shakin’ at the High School Hop” to “You’re the One That I Want” and to the finale, “We Go Together”– there is dancing and singing to make anyone yearn for – dare I say moon for? – the simplicity of the Fifties, a time when social media and politics were never in any teenager’s vocabulary.
Bryce Slocumb continues to impress in his work on the local stage. This time he plays the smallish role of local disc jockey Vince Fontaine. With such incredible lanky movies, he would no doubt be a natural to play the role of Pharoah in Rivertown’s upcoming Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat production slated for July.
Also of note for comic relief is Kelli Hebert as school administrator Miss Lynch and Deievion Martinsen as Johnny Casino, who performs as the leader of the group playing at the school dance.
The ensemble seems to be onstage for most of the numbers and all do a creditable job executing very inventive choreography by Katelin Zelon. It is a credit to their talent and to Zelon and Kelly Fouchi, an established choreographer of renown as well, that such work was elevated to a very high level.
Ron Goldberg provided a set design that was practical and able to incorporate the large cast very effectively. Stephen Thurber’s lighting designs were a perfect complement to the set which feature scenic designs by Kristin Blatchford, Edward Cox, Dylan Rhoton and Savannah Fouchi.
Costume designs including black leather jackets and poodle skirts were beautifully rendered by Bethany Sullivan, while Carol Eshleman and Marc Fouchi contributed to the soundtrack coordination and preparation.
If a ticket is available, get your best do done and grab your own version of Greased Lightnin’ to enjoy a great time and welcome theatre back to New Orleans.
Grease closes this weekend with mostly sold-out performances at Rivertown Theaters for the Performing Arts, 325 Minor Street in Kenner Louisiana. What few tickets remain or overflow tickets are available here.