“Grease” wraps Pioneer Theatre season with rollicking production

Sat May 11, 2019 at 11:50 am
By Edward Reichel

Emma Hearn as Sandy and Pascal Pastrana as Danny star in Pioneer Theatre’s “Grease.”

For its final show of the season Pioneer Theatre Company is presenting a rollicking production of the Jim Jacobs and Warren Casey musical Grease, with a stand-out cast of actors.

Grease chronicles the day-to-day lives of a group of 1950s’ high school students both in and out of class. The show, which debuted in 1971, is campy and filled with period clichés that likely didn’t register with the mainly young crowd at Friday’s opening performance. But that doesn’t make a difference, since the show is a delightful romp that’s just plain fun.

While the story is really just a framework for a string of catchy tunes, it nevertheless still touches (briefly) on some serious issues, such as peer pressure, teen pregnancy, gang violence and general teenage angst—problems that are just as relevant now as they were when the story takes place. And the large, talented cast did a remarkable job acting, singing and dancing their way through the show.

The two leads—Emma Hearn as Sandy and Pascal Pastrana as Danny—both gave top-notch performances opening night.

Sandy is the new student at the fictional Rydell High School, a sweet and innocent girl who wants to be part of the Pink Ladies, the popular girls’ school clique. She keeps resisting all the temptations they put before her, until she finally gives in just to get the love of her life, Danny.

Emma Hearn gave a strong performance as Sandy. She was wonderfully credible throughout as the shy and rather naïve girl, and her transformation at the end was also very believable. Hearn is an excellent actor with solid vocal chops, and she gave a fine rendition of the well-known ballad, “Hopelessly Devoted to You.”

Pascal Pastrana was also in top form Friday as the tough guy who melts when he’s alone with Sandy. He keeps his hardened persona intact when he’s around his buddies, but deep inside he’s really a softie who tries his hardest to hide it. Pastrana did a remarkable job in shifting between the two sides of his personality. And to top it off, there was great chemistry between him and Hearn.

Among the Pink Ladies, Alex Kidder was notable as the streetwise Betty Rizzo. She acts a lot older than her years, and that gets her into trouble, but she’s a survivor and, just like Danny, she’s a good soul underneath her hard veneer.

The other Pink Ladies were also wonderful, in particular Kate Cassidy Ryan as Jan, and Jaymie Inouye as Frenchy.

And among the others in Danny’s small circle of friends, David Park was notable as Kenickie, as was Michael Schimmele as Roger (who displayed some remarkably limber dance moves in the number “Mooning”).

Dave Anthony Vogel was delightful in the drag role of the Teen Angel, going miles over the top in “Beauty School Dropout,” with Frenchy and the other Pink Ladies as his back up singers.

Director Karen Azenberg (who also did the choreography) was skillful in her blocking, and allowed the action to move at a bright pace, with seamless scene changes.

Sets and costumes (by James Noone and Patrick Holt, respectively) captured the 50s era perfectly. And musical director (and keyboardist) Helen Gregory and her band supported the cast wonderfully with tight, dynamic playing.

Pioneer Theater’s’ Grease is a show that’s well worth anyone’s time to go and see.

Grease runs through May 25 at Pioneer Theatre. pioneertheatre.org; 801-581-6961.

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