Grease is still the word at Toby’s Dinner Theatre
Wednesday, 25 July 2012 08:44

Beloved nostalgia musical on stage through Sept. 9

by Nicole Rodman

    Back by popular demand, Grease is the word at Toby’s Dinner Theatre of Baltimore now through Sept. 9.
    Directed and choreo-graphed by Toby’s regular Tina Marie DeSimone (who also plays Rizzo), the high-energy musical is ably performed by a high-energy cast.
    Set at Rydell High School in 1958, Grease is the story of 10 rough-around-the-edges high school seniors trying to figure out life and love while still having a good time.
    Though the stage musical premiered in 1971, it was the hit 1978 film adaptation, starring John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John, that brought the rollicking musical to the masses.
     Though the stage version is far simpler than the film, the music and attitude that have made Grease a hit remain intact.

The play begins on the first day of school as a group of clean-cut Rydell High students proudly stand in front of a row of lockers and sing the school’s alma mater.
    The solemnity of the scene is suddenly shattered as the Burger Palace Boys (the T-Birds in the movie) and the Pink Ladies bust out of the lockers  singing a rude parody version of the song.
    From this opening number, the energy remains high as the fast-paced production hops from one showstopping musical number to the next.
    In “Summer Nights,” Toby’s newcomer Tim Rogan, as Danny, and Lara Zinn, as Sandy, are pitch-perfect as they seemlessly blend wistful yearning and macho posturing in one song.
    While the movie focuses mainly on the relationship between Danny and Sandy, in the play more time is given to the exploits of the rest of the Burger Palace Boys and Pink Ladies.
    As Sandy tries to fit in and Danny struggles to stay cool, the focus shifts to Kenicke (Peter N. Crews) and his new car, a beat-up junker destined to become “Greased Lightning.”
    As Kenicke, Crews effectively portrays the teen’s efforts to keep cool, infusing the character with an uptight awkwardness that only occasionally cracks.
    As Act I winds down, the Boys and the Ladies find themselves having a picnic in the park to celebrate Frenchy’s (Emily Lentz) decision to drop out of high school and enroll in beauty school.
    As the gang listens to the radio and talks, Rizzo (DeSimone) begins to make fun of the absent Sandy, mocking her clean-cut image in “Look at Me, I’m Sandra Dee.”
    Completely becoming Rizzo, DeSimone’s hard, shrill delivery and sassy attitude effectively portray Rizzo as tough, yet somehow vulnerable.
     In between scenes, ensemble cast members rush by as if students running between classes. This movement, combined with a slight dimming of the stage lights, serves as a quick, effective transition between scenes.
    Act II begins at the big dance as popular radio personality Vince Fontaine (played by talented Toby’s veteran David Bosley-Reynolds) and singer Johnny Casino (Scean A. Flowers) lead the cast in a showstopping performance of “Born to Hand-Jive.”
    This rollicking number is effectively contrasted by Sandy’s heartfelt ballad, “Hopelessly Devoted to You,” delivered by Zinn with both technical skill and emotional resonance.
    The scene fades to black as Sandy’s dilemma gives way to Frenchy’s.
    Despondent after dropping out of beauty school, she is visited by a teen angel (Kelli Blackwell), who urges her to go back to high school.
    As the angel, Blackwell is stunning, her voice swelling to reach the furthest corners of the theatre.
    Portraying Frenchy, Toby’s newcomer Emily Lentz ably embodies the character’s slightly goofy, though friendly, demeanor.
    Throughout the play, the effective chemistry between Zinn and Rogan is a driving force for the entire play.
    The two work well together, whether fighting or expressing their love.
    Things come to a head at Jan’s party as Rizzo reveals that she may be pregnant. Angry at Kenicke, she denies that the baby is his.
    As the party breaks up, Rizzo breaks into the heartbreaking “There Are Worse Things I Could Do.”
    Delivering each word with a mixture of defiance and vulnerability, DeSimone’s Rizzo is easily the most deeply-defined character in the play.
    Struck by Rizzo’s words, Sandy ponders her own behavior as she herself breaks into a reprise of “Look At Me, I’m Sandra Dee” as the scene ends.
    In the last scene, all is reconciled as the cast reunites for “You’re The One That I Want” and “We Go Together.”
    Fun, funny and high-energy to the end, the production walked the tightrope between heartfelt emotional ballads and showstopping musical numbers with ease.
    Special mention should be given to Tina Marie DeSimone who, in addition to directing and playing Rizzo, serves as the show’s choreographer.
    A talented choreographer, DeSimone managed to develop dazzling dance routines that work both within the context of the play and the confines of the small Toby’s stage.
    Co-costumers Janine Sunday and Samn Huffer are also to be commended for the dozens of detailed, authentic outfits worn by the cast throughout the production.
    Featuring a talented, high-energy cast and crew, Toby’s production of Grease is a summertime must-see for all.

•Where: Toby’s Dinner Theatre of Baltimore, 5625
O’Donnell St., in the Best Western Hotel and Conference Center at the former Baltimore Travel Plaza
•When:  Through Sept. 9; show times vary
•Tickets: $34.50 to $54
•Info: 410-649-1660,