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Highly Recommended! You’re The One That I Want

Highly Recommended!

The Marriott Theatre’s 2020 season of American musical classics opens with Jim Jacobs’ and Warren Casey’s much-produced, tuneful, nostalgic satire of Chicago high school life during the 1950’s. And unless you’ve been living under a rock you know that it was turned into the highest grossing movie musical of all time, starring Olivia Newton-John and John Travolta, in addition to becoming an international staple for both amateur and professional theatre groups, alike. But there are some very good reasons for making the drive up to Lincolnshire, where Grease is still the word.

First of all, this season opener is not only big, bombastic and bodacious, utilizing every inch of the Marriott arena stage, but it’s filled with a few unexpected surprises. This fast-paced two-hour production features all the classic tunes that rabid fans of this musical have come to know and love. But, happily, several songs from the film have been added, as well. This production also offers a candy apple primer motorized car that barrels down the aisle and out onto the stage, becoming the legendary set of wheels called “Greased Lightning.” Young Doody (a perfectly cast Michael Kurowski) sings and accompanies himself on guitar with “Those Magic Changes,” turning into a polished fantasy production number featuring a terrific backup ensemble of screaming girls.

One of Act II’s highlights is always “Shakin’ at the High School Hop,” that segues into the big dance contest, “Born to Hand Jive.” Thanks to Patti Garwood’s gifted pit orchestra and William Carlos Angulo’s spirited, athletic choreography this, like every other dance and musical number, nearly stops the show. The always incredibly talented team of scenic and lighting designers Jeffrey D. Kmiec and Jesse Klug impress theatergoers with their array of glowing, multicolored 1950’s neon signs that frame the stage, along with the sudden appearance of Marty’s bedroom, Jan’s basement playroom and the Burger Palace with its diner booths. And Amanda Vander Byl’s colorful, inventive period costumes add still one more element of polished, professional quality to this production.

Secondly, the entire company is spectacular, portraying real, reputable characters, not the typical cartoonish caricatures we often see in other productions. From newcomer Jimmy Nicholas’ honestly sincere portrayal of Danny, the Rydell High School stud, to Leryn Turlington’s shy, absolutely natural interpretation of Sandy, the new girl in town, this loving teenage couple truly carry this show. As in every show she’s appeared, Ms. Turlington has one of the finest trained voices in Chicago, hitting all the right notes with “Hopelessly Devoted to You” and “Summer Nights.”

Kelly Anne Clark’s conservative, uptight Miss Lynch and Jessica Palkovic’s aggressive and nimble-footed Cha Cha DiGregorio are both wonderfully funny. Landree Fleming’s bubble-brained Frenchy, the “Beauty School Dropout,” and Michelle Lauto’s hot-to-trot Marty are equally stunning, especially with Ms. Lauto’s girl group rendition of “Freddy, My Love.” Kevin Corbett and Jacquelyne Jones dazzle as Kenickie and Rizzo (one of the best acted and sung versions of “There Are Worse Things I Could Do”); while Jake Elkins’ Roger and Tiffany T. Taylor as his insatiable sweetheart Jan deliver an hilarious duet with “Mooning.” Garrett Lutz and Alaina Wis make a humorous couple as Eugene and Patty, the prototypes of the school nerd. And, almost stealing the show, the ever-hilarious Jonathan Butler-Duplessis enters down the aisle in a cloud of smoke as Teen Angel. Director Scott Weinstein’s hard-working ensemble add so much to this musical, filling in and supporting the other characters wherever needed.

This is an energetic, professionally polished production that will delight both newcomers to this musical, as well as those who’ve seen the show several times before. Everything about this “Grease” is first-rate. Jimmy Nicholas and the exquisite Leryn Turlington lead a cast of appealing, accomplished professionals through an evening of belted-to-the-rafters songs and dances choreographed to an unbridled frenzy. Leryn Turlington turns in another great performance, while Jacquelyne Jones brings an unexpected vulnerability to her portrayal of tough-girl Rizzo that makes her more appealing. Neon lighting, brilliant choreography and mellifluous singing (thanks to the always astute musical direction by Ryan T. Nelson), colorful costumes and Scott Weinstein’s creative staging all make this production “The One That I Want.”