'Grease' full of slick moves, sounds

Theatre Cedar Rapids opens 84th season with rock 'n' roll musical

Struttmann Photo

The cast of “Grease” was born to hand jive, nearly 60 years after the musical’s 1959 trip back in time. The show will be rockin’ and rollin’ through Oct. 8 at Theatre Cedar Rapids.
Struttmann Photo The cast of “Grease” was born to hand jive, nearly 60 years after the musical’s 1959 trip back in time. The show will be rockin’ and rollin’ through Oct. 8 at Theatre Cedar Rapids.

CEDAR RAPIDS — Roll up your jeans, slick back your hair and get ready to shake, rattle and roll with the kids from Rydell High in “Grease.”

The boogie back in time opened to earsplitting cheers during Thursday’s final dress rehearsal at Theatre Cedar Rapids. The raucous, invitation-only audience members were clapping, singing along and hooting throughout for their favorite Burger Palace Boys and Pink Ladies who are just trying to get hip and stay hep in high school. That’s not easy for students then or now, with all the peer pressure to be so bad that you’re good.

That’s part of the beauty of this production, led by the cool-cat production team of director Angie Toomsen, music director Benjamin Schmidt and choreographer Aaron Canterbury.

Under their righteous vision, the rock ’n’ roll musical is tons of fun, bright and vivacious throughout, with killer vocals, killer choreography and killer direction that makes heart and soul more than just your standard piano duet.

Typical productions gloss over the themes of bullying, smoking, drinking, rebelling, lying, petty thieving, mean girls, bad boys, cliques, dropping out, breaking up, making up and pregnancy scares.

Not this show. All those issues are front and center when they need to be, but wrapped up in music and dance so energetic they blow your socks off.

The leader of the pack is Charlie Vogl, as a double triple-threat. It’s his third turn into Danny Zuko’s skintight threads and slicked back hair — and he’s a professional dancer, an amazing singer and a terrific actor. You can’t go wrong following his lead. But the rest of the pack is equally talented, from acid-washed Rizzo (Erin Helm) to sleazy radio announcer Vince Fontaine (Bryant Duffy).


Emma Drtina takes goody-two-shoes Sandy Dumbrowski for a demure ride until she unleashes her killer pipes on “Hopelessly Devoted to You.” She turns this syrupy serenade into a power pop anthem that will flip your wig and send toupees flying. Her finale entrance is equally fierce.

Every song is memorable and every dance athletic and sharp, leaving the audience as breathless as the actors must be. Everyone gets to show off in “Born to Hand Jive,” with plenty of room for highflying acrobatics.

“Beauty School Dropout” is a gas, with a chorus of curlers and capes swooping around Frenchy (Hannah Spina) — and a couple of guest stars that will make you want to wolf-whistle. Nick Oswald sends hearts soaring with his heavenly falsetto as the crooning Teen Angel, trying to help Frenchy find her way back to the future on a more permanent wave.

Amy Rehnstrom is hilarious as the English teacher lurking in the shadows to lower the boom on delinquents daily and couples dancing too close for her comfort.

The only drawback was the proliferation of cigarette smoke that had my head stuffed up by intermission. Afterward, Toomsen said that was going to be cut way back moving forward. Score.



What: “Grease”

Where: Theatre Cedar Rapids, 102 Third St. SE

When: To Oct. 8; 7:30 p.m. Friday, Saturday, 2:30 p.m. Sunday

Tickets: $31 to $40, TCR Box Office, (319) 366-8591 or

l Comments: (319) 368-8508; diana.nollen@thegazette.com



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