If you’ve been sticking with that New Year’s diet, you’ve probably avoided greasy things like the plague.
Kudos to you.
But there’s a totally fulfilling type of grease landing in the ’Burg that’s super-nourishing to the soul, is faced-paced entertainment goodness and won’t destroy your resolution.
The musical “Grease” opened at the Fredericksburg area's Riverside Center for the Performing Arts on Wednesday and runs through March 15.
You’ve probably seen the classic 1978 John Travolta and Olivia Newton–John flick on the big screen, tracking Rydell High’s senior class of 1959 and the coolest kids in school, the T-Birds (called Burger Palace Boys in the musical) and Pink Ladies.
Within the story, head “greaser” Danny Zuko and his new-girl-in-town boo, Sandy Dumbrowski, guide folks through a rockin’ romance as beloved characters Kenickie, Betty Rizzo, Roger and more dance to their respective beats.
For the Riverside production, there’s a little star power of its own. Directing the production is Patti D’Beck, who was an associate director for the 1994 Broadway revival of “Grease,” which starred Rosie O’Donnell. Locally at Riverside, D’Beck’s directing credits have included “La Cage aux Folles,” “Saturday Night Fever” and others.
“Thinking back on that 1994 production, there was certainly a way it was done ... it felt like a rock concert in a way,” said D’Beck. “At Riverside, we’re heightening the acting and we want everything to be and feel real. After all, high school is a time that feels like life-or-death, it’s full of peer pressure and hormones are out of control.”
While D’Beck is a Riverside veteran, a handful of newbies are leading the “Grease” cast of 20.
“The characters in this production are all so well defined and so unique,” said D’Beck. “I’m really proud of the casting and, with that, I’ve loved seeing what the actors have brought to the table. It’s a truly collaborative group.”
Playing Danny, and making his Riverside début, is Iowa native Tyler Breeding. He starred as Danny in a separate production of “Grease” in Titusville, Fla., a few months ago and has brought a few pro-tips to Riverside.
“It’s been a blast teaching all the greasers how to do their hair,” he laughed. “There are a lot of different products involved ... wax, pomade, you have to grease down the sides. It’s a process. But it’s so nice to have this show and have a good time with it. It’s such a silly story that people enjoy no matter the time or the decade.”
Also making her Riverside début, as Betty Rizzo, is New York City resident Taylor Lloyd. In a 2018 Connecticut production of “Grease,” Lloyd played fellow Pink Lady, Marty Maraschino, but she’s seemed to really find her niche as Rizzo.
“When I was talking to [Riverside Producing Artistic Director Patrick A’Hearn], he said, ‘I see you were Marty before, but you definitely have some Rizzo in you,’” said Lloyd. “It’s funny because I was thinking the same thing. She may be a little misunderstood but is a badass in a way that emulates female power.”
Complementing the characters is more nostalgia galore, in the forms of infectious tunes and the set itself.
A seven-piece band will be stationed onstage, churning out “Grease” favorites, including “Alone at the Drive-In Movie,” “It’s Raining on Prom Night” and “Greased Lightning.” The musical also features two songs from the 1978 movie, “Hopelessly Devoted to You” (an iconic Olivia Newton–John moment, for sure) and “You’re the One That I Want.”
The set is the ’50s at its finest—the backdrop boasts a hodge-podge of iconic images featuring James Dean, poodle skirts and soda fountains.
For this time of year, the nostalgic vibe is one that’s worked for Riverside in times past and appears to be working yet again in 2020.
“ ‘Grease’ just became our biggest of all time in terms of advanced sales,” said A’Hearn. “This period of time, January to March over the past six years, has been one of our biggest selling periods. And, for most theaters, it’s not. For us, the pattern has been huge, in terms of sticking with a story that folks are familiar with and popular music.”
Post-“Grease,” Riverside will close its 22nd season with the Steve Martin and Edie Brickell bluegrass spectacular, “Bright Star,” which kicks off March 25.
“We’re continuing to challenge ourselves and be the best we can be,” said A’Hearn. “After every show, so many folks say, ‘You’ve done it again.’ With this and what’s ahead, we’re ready to do it again.”