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Grease Review

Address: Cushing Memorial Amphitheatre, Mt. Tamalpais
Mill Valley, CA 94941
Phone: 415-383-1100

GREASE — Music on the Mountain

Chelsea Holifield, as Sandy (dancing on the table) with the Pink Ladies and Ensemble.

Review by Judith M. Wilson

Photos by Ed Smith Photography

One of the miracles of the Mountain Play is the way it always comes together so beautifully in a rustic setting. This year, the show is Grease, a crowd-pleasing favorite that offers plenty to like—catchy tunes, lively dance routines and a girl meets boy story with plenty of teenage angst. It also captures America at a certain point in time, when the country was on the cusp of change and would leave the innocence and superficial sweetness that characterized the late 1950s behind forever. It’s an interesting choice, because it recalls a time when young women were expected to conform and project a certain image, and that’s a marked contrast to today’s Me Too Movement, which has prompted women to stand up for themselves and support each other in challenging sexual abuse.

The story begins with Rydell High School’s graduation in June 1959, but then it goes back to September 1958 and moves forward to recount various characters’ experiences during the school year. Much of the action revolves around Sandy Dumbrowski, as she starts a new school, and Danny Zuko, with whom she had a romance the previous summer. They didn’t expect to attend the same school, and so their unexpected on-campus meeting at Rydell High is quite a surprise. They’re excited at first, but unlike the carefree days of summer, when they could simply be themselves, they now have to deal with peer pressure. Danny has to meet the macho standards of his leather-jacketed pals, while Sandy must find a way to fit in with a new group of friends.

Jay Manley directs and keeps the action moving at a steady pace, while putting the spotlight on individual characters during the song and dance routines. Chelsea Holifield is a lovely Sandy, and she portrays a good girl of the 1950s perfectly—complete with hairband. er She undergoes a character change at the end and makes a statement with the song, Look at Me, I’m Sandra Dee, but whether she’s found her true self or is conforming to Danny’s expectations is left for the audience to decide. David Crane plays Danny, who struts and swaggers and briefly veers out of character to impress Sandy but eventually drops the pretense.

David Crane (center) as Danny with the T-Birds and ensemble.

It’s a large and accomplished cast. The character who is most realistic is Betty Rizzo, played by Ayna Absten, who follows her instincts even when it might not be to her best advantage. She also performs Look at Me, I’m Sandra Dee, but with a very different slant. Andre Amarotico portrays Kenickie, her love interest, and despite his tough-guy demeanor, he demonstrates genuine concern for Rizzo and briefly lets his soft side shine through. Gillian Eichenberger plays a befuddled Frenchy, who can’t get anything quite right. She performs a heartfelt Beauty School Dropout. Phillip Percy Williams plays an increasingly frustrated Teen Angel, who tries to get her on the right track and finds out it’s not an easy task. Nelson Brown is a smarmy Vince Fontaine, the radio announcer who’s the emcee at the prom, and Zöe Swenson-Graham is Cha-Cha DiGrigorio, whose confidence and impressive dancing skills win her the top spot in a dance contest. Jennifer Reimer is Miss Lynch as an uptight school administrator and teacher, who take the task of keeping a hormone-driven group of teens in line very seriously.

Left, Chelsea Holifield as Sandy and David Crane as Danny

The song and dance routines are integral to the show’s appeal, so the music and choreography are important elements in bringing the singing, dancing and acting into a cohesive whole. Mark Deitrich directs the Mountain Play Orchestra, and Nicole Helfer is the choreographer. Ken Rowland is the set designer, and he has created a set that makes the transitions to the various locales seamless. Michelle “Mishka” Navarre-Huff’s costumes are right on in reflecting the various characters’ personalities.

The Mountain Play is a sure sign that summer’s on its way, and it’s an only-in-Marin experience that's the perfect way to spend a late spring afternoon.

The Mountain Play takes place on Sunday, June 2, Saturday, June 8, which is Sing Along Saturday, Sunday, June 9, Saturday, June 15 and Sunday, June 16. For more information on pre-show entertainment, food vendors and transportation, go to www.mountainplay.org. For tickets, go to the website or call 415-383-1100.