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Gerald Carpenter: Theatre Group at SBCC Adds ‘Grease’ to Summer Nights

The Theatre Group at Santa Barbara City College will celebrate the 1950s with “Grease,” opening Wednesday. Click to view larger
The Theatre Group at Santa Barbara City College will celebrate the 1950s with “Grease,” opening Wednesday. (Publicity photo)

The Theatre Group at Santa Barbara City College starts its 2018-19 season with a new production of the popular musical Grease (1971), with book, lyrics and music by Jim Jacobs and Warren Casey.

The cast is made up of Hazel Brady, Chris Carmona, Christian Duarte, Will Geare, Josie Gillingham, Grace Gibbs, Aurora Cassandra Gooch, Justin Kang, Tessa Miller, Penny O’Mahoney, Ryan Ostendorf, Elvis Pagano, Chloe Grace Roberts, Hannah Robinson, Daniel Sabraw, Vivian Shay, Kody Siemensma, Irving Soto, Leslie Ann Story, Zachary Allen Thompson, Ciara Tolliver, Aren Vaughn, Alizah Anais Amaryllis Walton and Ben Zevallos.

Directed by Katie Laris with musical direction by David Potter, choreography by Christina McCarthy, scenic and lighting design by Patricia Frank, costumes by Pamela Shaw, and sound by Dom Camardella and Santa Barbara Sound Design, Grease opens Wednesday and runs through July 28 in the Garvin Theatre on SBCC's West Campus.

"Meet Rydell High's senior class of 1959," the producers say, "duck-tailed, hot-rodding 'T-Birds' and their gum-snapping, hip-shaking 'Pink Ladies' in bobby sox and pedal pushers, and celebrate the 1950s with one of the best-loved musicals of all time. Head 'greaser' Danny Zuko and new (good) girl Sandy Dumbrowski try to restore the romance of their 'Summer Nights' as the rest of the gang sings and dances its way through such songs as 'Greased Lightnin',' 'We Go Together' and 'You’re the One That I Want,' recalling the music of Buddy Holly, Little Richard and Elvis Presley that became the soundtrack of a generation."

When I was in grade school, and what then was called "junior high," in the 1950s, distant word came to my classmates and me of a group of guys known as "greasers." There was no ethnic slur intended, but there was an undertone of tacit class snobbery. "Greasers" were working-class boys who wore their hair long and slick, combed up onto the tops of their heads to tumble forward in a "waterfall" over their foreheads, while swept back on the sides into a "ducktail" or "DA." Many of them wore black leather jackets and hung out at the shop wing at schools, especially "Gas Engines Shop." Their appearance seems obviously modeled on the Southern boys who were inventing rock-and-roll in those years: Elvis, Gene Vincent, Carl Perkins, Holly. We didn't so much look down on them as fear them and, as kids will do, envy them. This was the age of James Dean and the "juvenile delinquent," and from a distance, the greasers (we also called them "rinks") embodied that wild glamour. We did not mix socially with them, even on a dare.

Each new decade in America tends to romanticize the last but one. Years ago, the late Marxist culture critic Alexander Cockburn wrote (in Architectural Digest of all places), "Those interested in promoting a 1950s revival ought to think about what 1950s furniture was like to come home drunk to." Nevertheless, exhausted — and not a little alarmed — at the excesses of the tumultuous 1960s, Americans in the 1970s did indeed turn to highly selective and airbrushed memories of the 1950s, to lose ourselves in a "simpler time." On television, there was Happy Days and other (less successful) sitcoms; on Broadway and in film, there was Grease.

The 1950s revival came and went, but Grease remains a perennial favorite, chiefly because of the engaging songs and the energy of the dancing, and the universally appealing romance at its heart.

Grease will preview at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday and Thursday. Shows thereafter will be at 7:30 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays, and at 2 p.m. on Sundays. The performance this Sunday will be live-captioned for the hearing-impaired. All performances have the assisted-listening system available, and the Garvin Theatre is wheelchair accessible.

Click here for tickets and other information, or call the Garvin Theatre box office at 805.965.5935.

— Gerald Carpenter covers the arts as a Noozhawk contributing writer. He can be reached at [email protected]. The opinions expressed are his own.

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