With an energetic cast and a constant stream of upbeat song and dance numbers, “Grease” offers a fun night out for theater-goers. Showing at Ogunquit Playhouse through June 21, the show is a light-hearted comedy musical about the high school scene in the 1950s, with a focus on trying to find romance while also fitting in.

Most people are more familiar with the 1978 film version of “Grease,” which starred John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John, although the show was originally a play. Written by Jim Jacobs and Warren Casey, it’s one of the longest running Broadway shows to date, in fact, according to Director DJ Salisbury.

Those who have seen the film will have an advantage in being able to fill in gaps in the play, which has some awkward transitions. It is also, confusingly, introduced as a high school reunion, as though the entire show is a flashback, but the characters do not reconvene as older-looking versions of themselves at the end.

Those are minor concerns, however, since the dialogue is really just a set up for the show’s beloved songs ”“ “Summer Nights” and “You’re the One that I Want” being the most popular ”“ and their accompanying dance scenes. In all of these, the cast shines both vocally and with their moves. Matthew Ragas as Danny and Mary Little as Sandy give flawless performances, with powerful vocals and a strong grasp of their characters. While all of the performers truly embody the various stereotypes their characters represent, those who shine particularly brightly are Mitch McCarell as Doody, whose performance of “Those Magic Changes” is stunning; and Jillian Gottlieb as Frenchy, whose flat affect and half-witted comments give the show a bit of comic spice.

A particular highlight of the Ogunquit production is Mo Gaffney, of “Absolutely Fabulous” fame, as the strict teacher, Miss Lynch. Her improvisation skills are on full display as she welcomes the audience, chiding them about their appearance ”“ or worse, tardiness ”“ giving everyone a good laugh to set the mood. Later, she provides a bit of comic relief as situations get serious with the teens, and her physical humor is top notch.

The dance numbers, choreographed by Salisbury, are superb, often offering more than the eye can catch with all of the twirling, movement and even hand-jiving ”“ and these pros never miss a step. Some slow-motion moves are also incorporated at times, giving the action a cinematic feel. Music provided by the full live band hidden under the stage, led by John McDaniel, adds to the energy of the dance.

The costumes, hair and makeup reflect the era well, whether it’s the revealing, fur-trimmed nightie worn by Marty (Maggie McDowell) or the high-waisted pants and red heels sported by bad girl Betty Rizzo (Madeleine Barker). The costume design, by Dustin Cross, also shines in the bubble-haired dancers of “Beauty School Dropout.” Sandy’s transition from Catholic schoolgirl to saucy rebel is particularly stunning ”“ a feat of costume design, along with amazing hair and makeup by Emilia Martin. Danny’s reaction is to fall to the floor as a blubbering mess ”“ and the audience can surely sympathize.

The sets, by Cliff Simon, are mostly sparse, but very effective, with a retractable bleacher setup that serves multiple purposes. Of particular note is the transformation of Greased Lightning, the junk car that Kenickie envisions as a beautifully restored hot rod. The audience gets to share that vision as the boys sing about the car, and it’s a stunning vision indeed.

Overall, “Grease” is an enjoyable high school love story in which we can all see ourselves, whether it’s as the main characters, their friends on the boys or girls side, or even the tormented outsider geeks. Ogunquit has put together a quality production with performers who truly bring the themes of summer love, peer pressure and growing up into focus ”“ with a comic twist.

Grease runs through June 21. Visit ogunquitplayhouse.com for show dates and times.

— Kristen Schulze Muszynski can be contacted at 282-1535, ext. 322 or [email protected]



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