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Supporting cast brings all the lightning to ‘Grease’

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When the popular Broadway musical “Grease” rolled into Sacramento’s Music Circus for opening night Tuesday, the costumes were spot-on and the music was right, but it was the supporting cast that revved up the audience and stole the show.

The ensemble cast of 15 veteran stage actors, whose collective credits include everything from “Thoroughly Modern Millie” in regional theater to “Book of Mormon" on Broadway, took full advantage of every inch of the stage and walkways leading to and from the wings. Scenes were played in a variety of places in the theater – sometimes all at once.

For those unfamiliar with the Music Circus, it is a stage “in the round,” which means the audience encircles the players. The stage has a variety of moving parts allowing portions of the stage to raise and lower and spin so actors can be seen from all angles.

The abilities of the stage were especially helpful when one star of the show – an old ‘50s convertible with a jumpseat called Greased Lightnin’ – drove (yes, drove) out of the wings and onto the stage for a few key scenes and song and dance numbers.

But it wasn’t the car that stole the spotlight (although it definitely earned gasps of appreciation as it entered and exited the stage under its own power), and it wasn’t the familiar, sing-along-with-me musical numbers, either.

The highlight of this production of “Grease” came from the attention-grabbing performances of supporting cast members John Pinto, Jr (Doody), Keven Quillon (Roger) and Melissa Wolfklain (Jan).

Just hearing Pinto belt out “Those Magic Changes” is worth the price of admission. Pinto’s appearance in “Grease” was his debut at Music Circus and, if first impressions mean anything at all, this is one singer worth returning to the show to see again and again.

Quillon and Wolfklain were equally compelling as Burger Palace Boy Roger and Pink Lady Jan.

I know what you’re thinking: “Who?”

In the John Travolta/Olivia Newton-John movie version of “Grease,” Roger and Jan were the chubby couple, and Jan is probably best known for her chipmunk teeth-brushing bit at Frenchie’s pajama party.

In the stage version, Roger and Jan have only a few more lines than in the movie, and sing in a couple more songs but, on this stage, Quillon and Wolfklain made every word and hand-jive and two-step count.

They were enthusiastic in voice, energetic in movement and believable in their shared chemistry from beginning to end.

Regrettably, the same cannot be said for lead actors Brandon Albright (Danny Zuko) and Kirsten Scott (Sandy Dumbrowski) – at least not at the opening-night performance.

Both Scott and Albright have long lists of acting, singing and dancing credits including stints on Broadway, so their performances Tuesday may have been the exception to the rule of otherwise exceptional performances for the pair.

Still, the tall, lanky Albright seemed fairly noncommittal in both his role as lead rebel of the Burger Palace Boys and as nervous boyfriend to the virtuous Sandy. Albright can sing all right – he made that clear with “Alone at the Drive-in” – but he was lyrically lackadaisical through most of the songs and danced like he had somewhere else to be.

Scott’s Sandy was equally lackluster, although her half of “Summer Nights” was heartfelt. When she resisted Danny’s moves at the drive-in, Sandy’s distaste for being groped was certainly convincing, but for the most part, Scott seemed distant in her role as Sandy and the chemistry between the two leads left something to be desired.

Brandon Albright and Kirsten Scott as Danny and Sandy
In addition to Pinto’s voice and Quillon and Wolfklain’s energy, another standout performance of the night came when Teen Angel (played by Robert J. Townsend) tried to convince Frenchie to go back to high school with “Beauty School Dropout.”

Townsend’s voice was on pitch and smooth, encouraging the audience to sing along with the familiar lyrics. (“You think you’re such a looker/ but no customer would go to you… unless she was a hooker!”)

The lingering applause at the end was well-deserved.

After the show, reaction from theatergoers (whose musical preferences went anywhere from Justin Bieber to Ginger Rogers) was generally positive.

“I really liked it,” said 12-year-old Isabella Wing. “It was funny.”

The best part for Wing? “Greased Lightning,” she said. “It was better than the movie because it was live.”

Rosemary Tremblay, 63, said the music and dancing were great, but the best part of the evening for her was the final number of the show, “You’re the One That I Want.”

“It was very energetic,” Tremblay said. “There was a lot of music, and that’s what we come (to Music Circus) to see and hear.”

“Grease” continues at Music Circus through Sunday. Tickets and show information can be found on the California Musical Theatre website.

Melissa Corker is a staff reporter for The Sacramento Press. Follow her on Facebook and on Twitter @MelissaCorker.

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