Regional Reviews: Albuquerque/Santa Fe
As always COVID-aware, Clifton resolved to have a small cast, opting to keep only the main players for this production. Theatre gods however, decided otherwise. Such was the response to the audition announcement, the quality and talent so high, that he bravely elected to field two entirely separate casts for this production. Naming them, very appropriately, "The Danny Cast" and "The Sandy Cast," and staging each on alternate weeks, it is the "Sandy Cast" which I reviewed on opening night.
As the opening titular number brought the entire troupe onstage, sudden nostalgia surprised me, and I felt a twinge of sadness at the passage of time. Almost everyone in the cast was born after 1978, yet Grease continues to span generations.
This Grease is a trip down memory lane, but with softer edges. The Burger Palace Boys aren't as bad as they could have been, and The Pink Ladies, though still edgy, are not nearly as merciless as they could be. Sandy is not as sweet, Danny is not as uncivilized, and as for Kenickie, well, there's only so much one can do with Kenickie, the big lovable dope and least complicated of them all. Lando Ruiz does yet another stellar job in the role of Kenickie–the multi-talented actor is as at ease on stage as he is designing lighting, sound, and taking care of myriad other theatrical responsibilities.
The story is well known. Boy meets girl during the summer vacation and, as their best selves, fall for each other. This holiday romance ends when the girl, Sandy (Virginia Asbury), must go home to another state. The boy, Danny, played by Kelvin Krupiak, continues with his life, going back to high school and hanging out with his friends. When he realizes the new girl in class is "his" Sandy, and she in turn sees the persona he wears when around his peers, it takes patience and more than a couple of misunderstandings, but it all works out the end. Interestingly, Asbury and Krupiak were cast as Sandy and Danny seven years ago in another production of Grease and have been "going steady" ever since.
It really is a lovely story, and so well told on Albuquerque Little Theatre's stage. This is the first musical here in more than two years, and the amount of talent, both raw and refined, is astounding. The testosterone-filled rendition of "Greased Lightening" (how did I not know all these years that it wasn't actually about the car?) performed atop an actual 1953 Studebaker Champion, was balanced later by Sandy's poignant "Hopelessly Devoted to You" solo.
It's difficult to believe there are only 15 people in the entire cast, all of whom deserve a mention. However, I must give a shout out to Lindsey Meek. Playing Frenchie in the Danny cast, she stepped in (due to illness of the original actor) to being Frenchie in the Sandy cast. You would never guess she was new to the team. Excellent job, Lindsey, and well done everyone.
Being so familiar with the music makes for an enjoyable evening at almost any event, but it is the talent of the individual vocalists that make so much of this evening extra special. We are very fortunate to have such an abundance of natural abilities available to entertain us. The actor who plays Doody is a prime example: Xavier Visage has a wonderful voice, put to very good use on stage. And Christy Burbank–her Rizzo is so prickly yet her rendition of "There Are Worse Things I Could Do" is ultimately heartbreaking.
It occurred to me that while having a dual cast is great on paper, the resultant doubling of all duties associated with producing a successful production is a nightmare. So hail to Carolyn Hogan, costume designer for both casts, the backstage dressers/costuming assistants, Chris Appleton and Kimberly Love (who does double/triple duty as wardrobe manager also), and the very busy stage crew, who move like ninjas all evening. Choreographer Kale Brown, I applaud you. Musical director Daniel Bukin, are you still sane? Assistant stage manager (I think this is the worst job of all) and deck chief Kaleah Baca, I've been there–I know. The set design is spot on, as is the set itself–Nick Flemming and team, well done. Finally, I would be remiss if I didn't mention box office manager Dejah Padon. Her patience is admirable, especially when I ask her to find me a seat, any seat, in a sold out show.
Around about here is where I usually give information about showtimes and dates etc. and I will, but before I do, I have to mention an incident that occurred immediately after the curtain call, something that ensured any other production of Grease will never, for me, and I bet many others, hold a candle to this one. As the audience applause slowly faded, the cast still onstage, yet before we began rising from our seats, Krupiak addressed the audience. Thanking us all for coming, we soon learned what a truly great actor he is. For the entire evening on stage, and for probably many weeks prior, during all the rehearsals and run-throughs, "Danny" nursed a secret. And on opening night in the little town of Albuquerque, New Mexico, we were honored and delighted to share in what must be one of the most stressful moments in a young man's life. I can't recall what he said or how he said it, and I never will, because it segued so beautifully into his taking his hand from his pocket, getting down on one knee and, in front of all of his friends both on and off stage and the entire, enchanted audience, Kelvin Krupiak asked his "Sandy" to be his wife. Virginia Asbury was genuinely taken aback. Her face, already smiling broadly from the applause at the end of the show, creased into a mixture of shock and joy when she realized what was happening. The roof was raised with the roar of the crowd as she tearfully accepted. I doubt I will ever witness such a moment again.
Grease runs through June 5, 2022, at Albuquerque Little Theatre, 224 San Pasquale SW, Albuquerque NM. Performances are Fridays and Saturdays at 7:30 p.m., and Sundays at 2 p.m. Additional performances Saturday, May 21 at 2 p.m., Thursday, May 26 at 7:30 p.m., Saturday, May 28 at 2 p.m., and Thursday, June 2nd at 7:30 p.m. Tickets: Adults $25, seniors (65+) $23, students (13 - University) $21, and children (12 and Under) $17. For tickets and information, please call 505-242-4750 x 2 or visit albuquerquelittletheatre.org/.