Paramount Theatre’s second season of American musical classics opens with Jim Jacobs’ and Warren Casey’s much-produced, tuneful nostalgic satire of Chicago high school life during the 1950’s. And unless you’ve been living under a rock, you know that it was turned into the highest grossing movie musical of all time, starring Olivia Newton-John and John Travolta, besides becoming an international staple for amateur and professional theatre groups. The recent Broadway revival and National Tour were even cast from a television reality show contest. So what makes Paramount’s production worth driving all the way out to Aurora?
First of all, this version is not only big and splashy, befitting the enormous Paramount Center stage, but it’s filled with surprises. This production features additional songs from the film, as well as a full-sized car that drives out onto the stage and rotates to become “Greased Lightning.” Doody’s (a perfectly cast Sean Effinger-Dean) sweet 4-chord guitar solo, “Those Magic Changes,” turns into a polished production number featuring a terrific Forever Plaid backup quartet.. One of Act II’s highlights is always “Shakin’ at the High School Hop” segueing into the big dance contest, “Born to Hand Jive.” Thanks to Dana Solimando’s unbelievably athletic choreography this, and every other dance number, nearly stops the show. And Jeremy Floyd’s stunningly inventive costumes add another element of professional quality to this production.
Second, the entire company portray real, honest characters, not caricatures, from Skyler Adams and Emma Ritchie as starstruck couple Danny and Sandy, to hilarious Glory Kissel’s and nimble-footed Jaclyn Burch’s Miss Lynch and Cha Cha DiGregorio. Adrian Aguilar and Jessica Kingsdale are fantastic as Kenickie and Rizzo, while J. Michael Finley’s Roger and Lara Mainier’s insatiable sweetheart Jan almost steal the show. Director Michael Unger’s hard-working ensemble definitely makes this production “the One That You’ll Want!”