Shawn Stalter, Contributing Critic - Dallas/Ft. Worth
It was apparent from the sea of “Pink Ladies” shirts, scarves, poodle skirts, leather jackets and throwback hairdos that the sold-out crowd at Fort Worth’s Casa Manana arrived ready to pay homage to the much-cherish, iconic musical, “Grease.”
This catchy jukebox musical rock-and-roll romp takes the audience back to a late 1950s high school where the T-Birds and Pink Ladies navigate their way through the trials and tribulations of teenage-dom set to the backdrop of wildly-catchy tunes. Premiering on Broadway in 1972, “Grease” soared on the wings of the first tangible cresting wave of American baby-boomer nostalgia. Then, adapted for the big screen in 1978, it became a mega-hit with Olivia Newton-John and John Travolta performing the lead roles of “Sandy” and “Danny.” Over 40 years later, “Grease” still sits well postured on the list of seminal American musicals.
The audience, literally sweating with excitement inside the packed theatre, included a diverse crowd of all ages and walks of life. As the drama of teenage dating, romance and sexual innuendo played out on stage; I couldn’t help but wonder what the teens here tonight thought of the dynamics unfolding before their eyes. Could the young ladies see themselves reflected in the faces and the attitudes of the Pink Ladies? Did the teen boys in the audience find hints of “toxic masculinity” in the T-Birds’ swagger?
Regardless of the greater debate about the underlying message “Grease” delivers and the applicability it content has to our era, this cast’s performance was on-point. They navigated celebrated classics including “Summer Nights,” “Greased Lightnin’,” “You’re the One that I Want” and more with pitch-perfect, well-choreographed ease and charm.
Stars Mary Mattison and Rico LeBron brought the leading roles of “Sandy” and “Danny” to life with technical precision. Additionally, Winston Daniels’ inspired performance and soaring voice as “Teen Angel” in “Beauty School Dropout” woo’d the audience and was a true highlight of the show. Other standout performances include Zak Reynolds as “Vince Fontaine”, Madison Kauffman as “Jan” and Austin Hohnke as “Kenickie.”
While it may not have completely delivered the pounding, “dance-in-the-aisle” energy the audience anticipated, the cast delivered a well-rounded, dynamic performance sure to quicken the pulse of “Grease” fans of all ages.
“Grease” at Casa Manana, directed by Tim Seib, runs through March 10th and stars Rico Lebron as “Danny,” Mary Mattison as “Sandy,” Austin Hohnke as “Kenickie,” Brett Warner as “Miss Lynch,” Christian Probst as “Doody,” Hannah Shankman as “Rizzo,” Jason Moody as “Sonny,” Kimberly Pine as “Patty Simcox,” Madison Kauffman as “Jan” Zachary Sutton as “Roger,” Emily J. Pace as “Frenchy,”, Emmie Kivell as “Marty,” Winston Daniels as both “Teen Angel” and “Johnny Casino,” Zachary J. Willis as “Eugene,” Zak Reynolds as “Vince Fontaine,” Ashley Arcement as “ChaCha,” and included Sarah Youngblood and Tristin Thomas in ensemble roles.
Reserve your seat for an upcoming performance and learn more about Casa Manana by visiting them online at www.casamanana.org or the theatre box office located at 3101 West Lancaster Avenue in Fort Worth, Texas.
Photo credit: Chip Tompkins