By Lynn Venhaus
Managing Editor
“Grease” may be the word, but I have one for the Stages St. Louis production:

This funny and nostalgia look at 1950s teenagers and the
decade’s burgeoning rock and roll culture bursts with ebullient performers who
deliver the beloved songs with panache.

Those songs never get old. “Summer Nights,” “We Go
Together,” “Greased Lightning,” “Born to Hand Jive” and “You’re the One That I
Want” are among the catchy show tunes in the style of Buddy Holly, Little
Richard and Elvis Presley that entice sing-a-longs. (And eager audiences are
Integrated with the snazzy dance numbers choreographed by Tony Gonzalez, and
costumes to match, they capture the look and sound of a bygone era — but also
a universal feeling.

And certainly not that we were all the cool kids. Far from

By now, the worldwide smash hit is as familiar as your
senior year in high school. So why do people return over and over to watch high
school shenanigans?

Photo by ProPhotoSTL“Alone at the Drive-In Movie,” “Beauty School Dropout,” “Those
Magic Feelings” and “It’s Raining on Prom Night” touch on all the fretting that
comes with being a teen, no matter what generation.

Maybe it’s that sense of trying to fit in, to belong. That
underneath that tough T-Birds exterior are guys desperate to figure it out —
masking those insecurities (on display so well in James Dean’s “Rebel Without a
Cause”). And the Pink Ladies really wanting to be Gidget, but not letting on
they are afraid they don’t measure up.

On the surface, it is all fun times, that sweet flush of
youth during a more innocent time – but dealing with grown-up issues AND

“Greaser” Danny Zuko (Sam Harvey) fancies “good girl” Sandy Dumbrowski (Summerisa Bell Stevens) one summer, and lo and behold, she transfers to his public high school, not the Catholic one. Whoa. Kind Frenchy (Lucy Moon) invites Sandy to hang out with the Pink Ladies, but rough-and-tough Rizzo (Morgan Cowling) is not nice to the new girl. Rizzo has her own issues with boyfriend Kenickie (Jesse Corbin), but school isn’t a high priority with anyone except  Patty Simcox (Aisling Halpin) and nerd Eugene (Brad Frenette).                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            “Grease” is a cultural phenomenon nearly 50 years old — and has been revised multiple times, with the most significant changes made in the 1978 movie, then adopted for a 1993 London stage version, which incorporated four chart-topping songs from the movie written by Barry Alan Gibb, John Farrar, Louis St. Louis and Scott Simon. This is the version Stages has the rights to, and it makes a difference.

You would not much recognize the original 1971 stage version,
which has been sanitized from Jim Jacobs’ and Warren Casey’s initial effort
about working-class high schoolers in a Polish part of Chicago, based on
Jacobs’ alma mater in Cicero.

Photo by ProPhotoSTLThe duck-tailed, hot-rodding Class of 1959 of Rydell High
resembled those ruffians, and the gum-snapping and hip-shaking Pink Ladies were
a combination of bad and mean girls. The raunchier version has been toned down,
but there are still the themes of peer pressure, teen pregnancy, gangs, class
conflict, and good old garden-variety teen rebellion.
This cast, with a few who have been out of high school for some time, seem to
gel well. They sure can shake, rattle and roll in their musical numbers, and
exaggerate their characters for comic effect. Their school and home scenes,
under Michael Hamilton’s smooth direction, delve deeper into social
interaction, with different conversations and motives at play.

While it’s obvious the cast is older, “Grease” isn’t a
production that hinges on authenticity. Just go with the fantasy.

(After all, back in my day, most of these people would have
been considered juvenile delinquents, not people to emulate. And changing into
a sexy siren to get a guy? Oh dear. When would that fly today?)
“Grease” did not become a massive hit because everyone’s enamored with
hooligans. The modest musical parodying the 1950s had an eight-year run on
Broadway and two popular revivals in 1994 and 2007, plus the movie is the no. 1
movie musical of all-time, not to mention all the productions in schools,
regional and community theater.
People can identify with awkward adolescence and ‘types’ – if you don’t
recognize yourself, you know others who do. The supporting cast is appealing,
particularly Patrick Mobley as shy Doody, eager to be a chick magnet with his
guitar, and merry Brooke Shapiro as Jan, desperate to have a beau.

Photo by ProPhotoSTL

Moon is terrific as Frenchy, and “Beauty School Dropout” is
one of this show’s highlights, in staging, choreography and costumes. Showing
off her powerful pipes, Kendra Lynn Lucas is a showstopper as the Teen Angel.
She also doubles as Miss Lynch, but in a rather confusing development is flirty
with students.

Steve Isom evokes those early rock ‘n roll disc jockeys in
his on-air patter and hosting dance contest duties as Vince Fontaine.

Julia Johanos is admirable as a stylish Marty, who acts worldly
older on purpose, while Collin O’Connor is amusing as Roger of ‘Mooning” fame.
Frankie Thams tries to be a rowdy Sonny.

Summerisa Bell Stevens is a radiant Sandy, and after
impressive turns as Sophie in “Mamma Mia” and Doralee in “9 to 5,” she
demonstrates her vocal talents once again. She is at her best with “Hopelessly
Devoted to You.”
I didn’t feel the pairings of Danny and Sandy and of Kenickie and Rizzo were
all that convincing, but their singing and dancing skills were dandy. Harvey
did a nice job with the ballad “Sandy,” and as much as Rizzo’s mean-spirited
“Look at Me, I’m Sandra Dee” annoys me, her “There Are Worse Things I Can Do”
was fine.

The rest of the energetic ensemble includes Bryan Purvis as Peggy-Sue, Madison Tinder as Doreen, Matthew Weidenbener as Frankie, Erik Keiser as Junior, Zach Trimmer as Johnny Casino and Tiger Brown as that fleet-footed Cha-Cha Di Gregorio. Lisa Campbell Albert did her usual stellar job as musical director, with orchestral arrangements by Stuart M. Elmore.

The cast certainly looks the part in their stunning vintage
outfits, tailored to perfection by resident costume designer Brad Musgrove and
his crew. His choice of fabrics is spot-on and he has created looks that could
be straight out of the movies “Pillow Talk” and “A Summer Place,” or McCall’s
magazine, complete with bobby sox and saddle shoes.

Scenic Designer James Wolk makes interesting use of the
space with two staircases so that transitions are smooth, and he has built a
car – a red convertible that serves its purpose. He had me at hi-fi and 45s. Sean
M. Savoie’s lighting design enhances it beautifully.

This “Grease” does what it’s supposed to do – present a time, a place and a feeling, and as a bonus, has the groove and meaning audiences want.

Stages St. Louis presents “Grease” through Aug. 18. Many shows are sell-outs but tickets are available Aug. 13, 14 and 18. For more information or tickets, visit

By CB AdamsContributing Writer

“Rock of Ages” showed up at The Fabulous Fox on its tenth anniversary tour for a three-day run starting March 1. In rock years, that’s…well, pushing 40 years since the soundtrack to our collective youthful heavy petting was transformed into a classic rock heavy rotation playlist.

In jukebox musical time, the two-hour performance shredded the space-time continuum with a party-like experience filled with big hair, bobbing head bobs and plenty of devil’s horns shoved defiantly skyward (by the actors and audience members alike).

There’s an apocryphal anecdote about Bob Dylan from way back in 1966. During a concert at the Royal Albert Hall, a heckler expressed his displeasure at Dylan having gone from acoustic to electric. Dylan reportedly advised the Hawks backing him up to “Play freakin’ loud (only he didn’t say “freakin’”). In an alternate universe, Nigel Tufnel of Spinal Tap fame would have been in the audience that night and taken Bob’s admonition to heart, and in turn counseled Stacee Jaxx and his band, Arsenal, to set the volume in “Rock of Ages” to Spinal Tap’s mythical “11.” A rock ‘n roll daisy chain dream, if ever there was one.

Photo: Jeremy Daniel“Rock of Ages” is the hit machine that keeps on giving. Not only did it earn five Tony Award nominations, including Best Musical, after it opened on Broadway in 2009, it has also been regularly rotated to St. Louis.

There’s no reason to think it won’t be back again, either (“Party on, Garth”). This show is just that much fun, in a “put another dime in the old jukebox, baby” sort of way, if you love – or love making good-natured fun of – the big haired, glammed-up, testosterone-y 80s rock, ala Whitesnake, Twisted Sister, Steve Perry, Foreigner, REO Speedwagon, Bon Jovi and other early-MTV dinosaurs.

One doesn’t see “Rock of Ages” for its trope-filled plot. You know, the one about girl leaves Kansas, meets boy (a wanna-be famous rock star) after being mugged upon arrival Los Angeles, gets a job at The Bourbon Room (a famous rock ‘n roll club), falls into puppy-ish love with boy, who also works at the club, loses boy after hilarious bathroom hook-up with Stacee Jaxx (a really famous rock star), loses her job at The Bourbon Room while the boy does too, reboots her career with new hooker hair and not-so-skillful pole dancing at a gentlemanly Venus Club while boy sells his rocker status for boy-band and/or pizza delivery lucre.

Photo: Jeremy DanielAnd that is just the sub-plot to the father-son Teutonic duo that threatens to demolish The Bourbon Room and its sleazy Sunset Strip brethren to make room for Reagan/Bush-inspired, just-say-no, “clean living” establishments. Of course, by the end, girl gets boy and lives happily ever after in the LA suburbs and The Bourbon Room lives on, along with all those evergreen heavy-metal hits.

What turns this silly plot, which has about as much depth as the philosophical ramifications of Quiet Riot’s “Cum on Feel the Noize,” into a jukebox hero is its combination of self-deprecating, double-down double entendres, meta awareness, pacing as rapid as a Nikki Sixx solo, and a continuously clever interweaving of story and song.

Tying all of these elements together at The Fabulous Fox was the narrator, Lonny, played by a commanding John-Michael Breen, who looked (appropriately)

The big-gunned Anthony Nuccio, as boy-interest Drew, proved more than up to challenge of big-belted songs like “I Wanna Rock” and “Oh Sherrie.” Katie Lamark as Sherri, the girl from Paola, Kansas, captured her character’s yin-yang of being starry-eyed (figuratively) and ball-busting (literally), especially on the songs “Harden My Heart” and “Shadows of the Night.”

Sam Harvey, making his national tour debut as Stacee Jaxx, was seamlessly slinky and sexy or just plain stupid and stoned, depending on the plot’s demands. 

“Here I Go Again,” which closed out the first act, was a performance highlight and obvious audience favorite. The song, with almost the entire cast joining in, exemplified the way “Rock of Ages” can improbably (and successfully) blend a “Glee”-worthy interpretation of a head-banging favorite with jazz hands and wink-wink humor.

To borrow a line from Dan Baird of Georgia Satellite fame, “Rock of Ages” is a love song (to the 80s) for the hearing impaired (i.e. the audience, after the show) with true “rock on” cred.

Photo: Jeremy DanielThe 10th anniversary national tour of ‘Rock of Ages” performed at the Fox Theatre from March 1 to March 3. For tickets, visit or call 314-534-1111.