Grease — which began as a small show in a now-defunct Chicago nightclub and then rose to international success via Broadway, the West End, and, most influentially, a 1978 film version starring John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John — is getting the royal treatment at Santa Barbara City College, where it plays until July 28. This new production has more dancing, a bigger and busier set, and some seriously amped-up vocalizing. Several of the show’s big numbers are the stuff of which viral video stardom is made. From Zachary Alan Thompson’s turn as Teen Angel in “Beauty School Drop Out” to Alizah Anais Amaryllis Walton’s version of “Freddie My Love” as Marty, one of the Pink Ladies, there’s plenty of thrills to be had for fans of the voice. Ben Zevallos is excellent overall as Danny Zuko, singing and dancing his way through Christina McCarthy’s inventive choreography with confidence and flair. There’s a lot of dancing in this show, and it manages to be at once tightly professional and adorably camp, with Vivian Shay a particular standout in the ensemble sequences. For an example of the production’s witty way with costumes, see “Grease Lightnin’,” and in particular notice the coveralls on those dancing auto mechanics.
Director Katie Laris takes a strong stance against what she sees as the misperception of the show as sexist, stating in her program note that the story is not “about having to change in order to meet someone else’s expectations,” and as Sandy, Tessa Miller does a great job of embodying this interpretation, giving Sandy an earnest sensitivity that goes well with the idea that her ultimate goal is “developing into a fully authentic adult,” to once again quote the program note. Although this is a laudable attempt at redeeming Grease from its own trashiness, it tends to militate against the guilty pleasure aspect of the show, which has always been one of its main strengths. Nevertheless, there’s a lot to like about this ambitious production.