Carol Burnett has a saying about cotton candy: "It's fluff, it's nothing, but sometimes cotton candy tastes really good!" If you look into a trash can at any carnival you will see a half-eaten poof of cotton candy - someone thought they wanted it but one can only take so much. "Grease" is spun sugar: It is silly, and it sends a controversial message, but it is beloved, and hey, sometimes you just want some.
Director Brian Swasey offers a "Grease" smorgasbord of treats. His choreography is organic and appears almost improvisational. He has incorporated songs from two different Broadway versions, as well as songs written just for the 1978 film. By enlisting some of Maui's finest singers and dancers, his "Grease" works.
What has always worked in "Grease" is Rizzo. How can you not love Rizzo? Lia Krieg shines in the role, and at times, carries the entire production. Krieg is one of the finest singers on the island, and her "There Are Worse Things I Could Do" is a chicken-skin moment. Rueben Carrion is surprising as usual in the role of Rizzo's steady guy, Kenickie. Carrion generally appears in four to five plays per year, and with Kenickie he has added another layer to his skill set, especially when singing lead on "Greased Lightening."
The vocals of Eric Peterson’s Danny and Jacqui Sherwood’s Sandy help Maui OnStage’s “Grease” soar. Performances continue through March 11 at the Historic Iao Theater.
JACK GRACE photo
Of course, "Grease" just falls flat on its face without a quality Danny and Sandy. Eric Peterson is probably the only person on Maui who could pull off playing Danny. His vocal range alone makes it possible for Swasey's "Grease" to soar. If Danny can't sing extremely well, you've got bad cotton candy. Jacqui Sherwood as Sandy is a sugar cube wrapped in pretty paper, tied with a bow, emitting a song when you touch the ribbon. Don't misunderstand me, this is not sarcasm; she just happens to be Marlo Thomas' "That Girl." Sherwood has a chameleon side, too. She alters her voice from sweet to rock-ish and her Sandy thinks, acts, reacts and evolves constantly before your eyes.
Jonna Ahn as Marty gets her own show-stealing moment with "Freddy My Love," one of the best production numbers of the show. Danielle Allaire is fantastic via multiple characters, especially as Cha Cha DiGregorio. This is Allaire's Maui debut of sorts, and I look forward to seeing her in future productions.
In addition to Carrion, "Grease" allows several familiar Maui faces to step out of their usual roles. Aly Cardinalli plays the socially inept Doody, ironically pretending to dance badly at the Rydell High dance, saying, "Don't talk to me, I'm trying to count!" Another great dancer, Caleb Rhodes, plays Sonny, the sex-obsessed tough guy. Mamie Gesen, usually cast as sweet and innocent, plays the smoking, drinking, dropout Frenchy. And Patty Silva, last seen in sexy "Chicago" attire, plays the frumpy, constantly eating wallflower, Jan. Also of note is Jerry Eiting's stellar performance as the teen idol who croons "Beauty School Dropout." The well-known and popular Eiting gets a big laugh upon making his entrance, clad in a white tux as he comes in from the back out the house.
The ensemble cast shares in creating the highlight of the show, "Born To Hand Jive," (sung by Mark Bolden) in what seems like a never-ending dance workout. The energy and enthusiasm of the young cast is infectious, and the packed opening-night crowd cheered wildly at its finish.
The "Grease" band is another reason why the audience taps and claps along. John Zangrado on saxophone adds that extra something that most orchestras lack on Maui; it's refreshing to hear some horns in a musical as opposed to just electric keyboards. Other "Grease" musicians include Anne Durham, keyboard; Perry Gragas, percussion; Eric Molina, bass; and Dave Anthony, guitar.
Filling out the the Rydell High alumni are two current King Kekaulike High School students Marissa Godinez as Patty Simcox, "the Little Lulu of Rydell High," and Trevor Natividad as Eugene, the class nerd. James Natividad plays Roger, "king of the mooners," Laura Bloom Farber plays "old lady Lynch," the lone teacher in the Broadway version, and Steven Dascoulias plays the lecherous disc jockey Vince Fontaine.
The music of "Grease" is essentially its selling point. By the looks of the nearly sold-out show of all ages, singing along to "Grease is the Word" at curtain call, Maui is going to have a run on cotton candy. Make your reservations in advance because it appears Maui OnStage has found another "Cats" and "Chicago."
* "Grease" continues through March 11. Book, music and lyrics by Jim Jacobs and Warren Casey. Directed by New York guest director/choreographer Brian Swasey. Performances are Fridays and Saturdays at 7:30 p.m. and Sundays 3 p.m. at the Historic Iao Theater. Tickets are $40 and $22; keiki 12 and younger are $15. Dinner packages available with Cafe O'Lei and Bistro Casanova. Call the Maui OnStage box office at 242-6969 or visit mauionstage.com.