Grease at Ja’Duke, Rolling Back to the Good Old Days

The full cast of Grease, at Ja'Duke Center for the Performing Arts in Turners Falls.
The full cast of Grease, at Ja’Duke Center for the Performing Arts in Turners Falls.
Bj Kulp, Ruthie Cogswell, Dylan Vinton, Samantha Myburgh and William LaPlante in Grease at Ja'Duke.
BJ Kulp, Ruthie Cogswell, Dylan Vinton, Samantha Myburgh and William LaPlante in Grease at Ja’Duke.

Grease Brings Us Back to an Age of Innocence with a Little Sex Appeal

Ja’Duke Center for the Performing Arts was close to full this past Sunday for the matinee of the popular musical Grease, written in the 70s about a 1959 high school by Jim Jacobs and Warren Casey.  Like the Majestic Theater’s choice to bring back their most popular show ever,  Buddy, the Buddy Holly Story a few months back, how can you go wrong with songs like these?  The Majestic extended the run in West Springfield as audiences couldn’t get enough of the singing, dancing, and early ’60s fun.

The audience in Turners Falls was just as happy to watch the singing and dancing of another soundtrack written about the golden era of big cars, greased-back hair, and students who actually feared the Principal, in this show Miss Lynch, well played by Jenn Gagne. It was a genuine marvel and a joy to watch the group of greasers led by Danny Zuko (William LaPlante) with his main sidekicks Kenickie (BJ Kulp), Doody (Anthony McNamara) and little Sonny, my favorite, (Dylan Vinton) throw bravado around and bust balls, but cower when Lynch gives an order.  Something about having such respect for authority heartened me.

If you try to follow the story by the words the male actors said, here it gets hard because these leather-jacket-clad jokers mostly just say silly things to crack each other up. We see this group in sharp contrast to the clique of girls at Rydell High who wear satin Pink Lady jackets and actually enunciate. These are indeed the cool kids, and we can more easily decipher what they are saying throughout the play.

One Pink Lady stood out to me, Marty, (Ruthie Cogswell), with her fine solo called ‘Freddy My Love.”  The scene that produced this song was striking to anyone in 2023. Here were four girls, at a pajama party in their jammies and the only thing they looked at was a copy of Teen Magazine and the mirrors of their compacts. When in the past ten years have we been able to view this many teens without a single ….CELLPHONE!?  This alone made the scene memorable, and like most of the others, it ended with a sweet song. We follow Marty as she turns on her sex appeal with various characters and the audience gets a kick out of the bawdy references.

The plot is in there somewhere, involving Sandy (Jenna Scott) a straight-arrow new girl dressed in a prim proper dress who wants to be a Pink Lady but is too dang innocent.  Rizzo and Frenchy and the other girls are determined to make her into a cool kid, plying her with cigarettes, booze and then trying to pierce her ears making a bloody mess. She emerges in the second act a far cry from the shy girl at school, donned in black leather pants, waving a cig and telling Danny “You better shape up!”  You can all sing along, you know the tune!

Sandy Dumbrowski, (Jenna Scott) and Danny Zuko (William LaPlante) sing the famous number 'You Better Shape Up!'
Sandy Dumbrowski, (Jenna Scott) and Danny Zuko (William LaPlante) sing the famous number ‘You Better Shape Up!’

Kudos is well deserved to choreographer Alyssa Martin and director Nick Waynelovich who managed a very large cast in intricate dance numbers, weaving in and out and flopping women around and never missing a beat.  The large group moved well and in synch and nobody flubbed their moves.

I asked some Ja’Duke staff why the theatre was so full on this Sunday. “It’s Grease, everyone loves Grease,” she said.  Though this house often gets packed, this was the largest audience I had seen in my five shows there.

Grease is a worldwide phenomenon, between the 1978 movie starring John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John and its multiple revivals and long life in community theaters.  The script does include some sensitive (at the time) topics like whether Rizzo (Sara Paige) is pregnant, and sexual references that get pretty raunchy, and the script was toned down from its more stark and harsh original. Grease is Broadway’s 16th longest-running show and the in one of its revivals, Rosie O’Donnell played Rizzo and Megan Mullally was the sexy Marty.

Grease at Ja’Duke Center for the Performing Arts Industrial Boulevard, Turners Falls. Continues July 22, 23 tickets $16.