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The Villages
Saturday, July 2, 2022

Grease is the word as stellar cast brings classic high school tale to Savannah Center

When it comes to “Grease” – everything old is new again.

That’s what a rowdy gang of Villages’ greasers proved Thursday in Savanah Center on the opening night of a sold-out, three-day run of the famed musical.
Dawn DiNome as Sandy and Alex Santoriello as Danny brought some intense 1950s’ heat to this greasy golden oldie. They were helped by a stellar and energetic cast – notably Mark Steven Schmidt, who nearly stole the show as Teen Angel.

Dawn DiNome left and Alex Santoriello brought a rousing production of Grease to a soldout Savannah Center on Thursday. Bobbi Steele Marotta is also pictured
Dawn DiNome, left, and Alex Santoriello brought a rousing production of Grease to a soldout Savannah Center on Thursday. Bobbi Steele-Marotta is also pictured

On the surface, it may seem kind of goofy having a cast from a retirement community playing the semi-delinquent, sexually-rambunctious teens haunting the halls of Rydell High School.

Think of it as Geritol meets testosterone and don’t forget, in The Villages, anything is possible.

Dawn DiNome and Alex Santoriello exude chemistry on stage
Dawn DiNome and Alex Santoriello exude chemistry on stage.

“Where else could 70-something year olds reminisce about their glory days by playing 17-year old high school students,” stated Santoriello who directed the musical. He also co—produced it with Joan Knapton of KC Productions.
One of the most enjoyable parts of this production was the sly concession to age. At one point, during a dance number, Santoriello and DiNome appeared on stage briefly with walkers. And, in a symbolic act of age rebellion, tossed the walkers aside to jitterbug without assistance.

The energy level was popping all through the nearly two-hour show, and kicked into high gear in the second half after intermission.
Much of that came from an explosive burst of vocal prowess by Schmidt. Like Frankie Avalon in the “Grease,” movie, Teen Angel and the song “Beauty School Dropout,” mark a turning point in the show.
Schmidt is best known for his classical performances but in this production he seems  like Luciano Pavarotti meets the Four Seasons. He began the song in operatic splendor before hitting falsetto notes straight out of Frankie Valli. His chalk-white suit might be best described as heavenly.

Dawn DiNome as Sandy has a sleepover with some Pink Ladies
Dawn DiNome as Sandy has a sleepover with some Pink Ladies.

The real stars of this show, however, were DiNome and Santoriello.
Sandy is a transformative character, and DiNome exemplifies her changes. She goes from a sweet, innocent girl to a sultry, teen vixen, wearing black spandex pants that looked tight enough to be painted on.
The tender Sandy is on display as DiNome sings a heart-warming “Hopelessly Devoted,” straight out of Olivia Newton-John. She kicks up her heels on the rocking “You’re the One That I Want,” with Santoriello.
Danny Zuko shows his soft side on “Sandy,” but also flips into a rock and roll groove on such numbers as “You’re the One That I Want,” and “We Go Together.”
DiNome and Santoriello have unique stage chemistry. They have worked together in many shows over the past four years, and display a knack of feeding off each other to reach emotional high points.

Virgil Reyes center as Kenickie dishes out some greased lightning
Virgil Reyes, center, as Kenickie dishes out some greased lightning.

There were other, noteworthy performances.

Bobbi Steele-Marotta as Marty, delivered a gentle pop-rocker with “Freddy My Love.”  Bill McGaughey was also in vintage oldies form on “Those Magic Changes.”  Virgil Reyes brought a street-tough edge to the lead on “Greased Lightning.”

Brynn Neal as Rizzo offers a powerful version of There Are Worse Things I Could do
Brynn Neal as Rizzo offers a powerful version of, “There Are Worse Things I Could Do.”

Brynn Neal is a local performer who always delivers impressive performances.  She was justifiably snarky in “Look At Me, I’m Sandra Dee.” But Neal powered the emotions to heart-wrenching fervor on “There Are Worse Things I Could Do.”
Clark Barrios, another consistent and talented performer, opened the musical with a thumping “Grease Is The Word.”  Sara Kallioinen was a hoot as Frenchy  and Michele Conners sizzled on the dance floor as Cha Cha Digregorio.
Violet Ray’s choreography captured the essence of those bygone “American Bandstand” days. The jumping, twisting and karate-like moves on “Born to Hand Jive” were a sight to behold.

“I loved it,” said Villager Sue Sullivan, who, like her friend Charlie Couckuyt, came dressed in ‘50s’ garb. “The music, the dancing and costumes were great. ‘Grease’ is so much fun, it never gets old.”
Just like so many Villagers.

Villagers Sue Sullivan standing and Charlie Couckuyt wore poodle skirts to see Grease
Villagers Sue Sullivan, standing, and Charlie Couckuyt wore poodle skirts to see “Grease.”

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