Mountaintop Musical

‘Grease’ is the word for this year’s Mountain Play

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Sandy (Chelsea Holifield, third from the right) and the Pink Ladies sing about ‘Summer Nights’ on Mt Tam. Credit: Ed Smith Photography

Scenic vistas and unpredictable weather aren’t the only things you’ll find on Mt. Tam this weekend. Back for its 106th season, the Mountain Play invites you to take in the view and a show atop the county’s tallest peak, where adventurous audiences congregate each summer to partake in this century-old tradition.

It’s a family-friendly, all-day affair complete with picnicking and Champagne (bring your own or buy it there, both are common practice) and a pre-show costume contest. Be sure to dress in layers, though; the 4,000-seat amphitheater offers ample space, but little cover from the elements.

This year those who make the trek will find a high-energy rendition of Grease, one of the longest running shows in Broadway history. The production follows Jim Jacobs and Warren Casey’s original storyline, but incorporates additional songs from the eponymous hit film, including the crowd-pleasing finale “You’re the One That I Want.” (Try not to sing along—I dare you.)

It’s an age-old story steeped in upbeat tunes, stifling machismo and late 1950s Americana: boy meets girl; they fall in love; boy downplays feelings to look cool in front of friends; identity crises ensue; everyone breaks into song and dance. Cue happy ending.

But beneath the surface, Grease is more than a feel-good high school musical. It tackles heavy-hitting themes like peer pressure, teenage rebellion, self-discovery and sexuality in the rock-and-roll era.

Does it succeed? The conclusion is controversial at best, and it’s an interesting choice of material amid the burgeoning “Me Too” movement. To the Mountain Play’s credit, a few minor changes mitigate some outdated characterizations and questionable language.

Director Jay Manley helms a youthful cast who prove up to the task, with noteworthy performances by Anya Absten as sharp-edged Rizzo, Scott Scholes as wannabe rock-star Doody, Phillip Percy Williams as “Teen Angel” and Chelsea Holifield as goody-two-shoes leading lady Sandy D. Talent is in no short supply. (Extra credit to all for continuing undaunted by opening day’s rain-slick stage.)

Ken Rowland’s clever set and Michelle Navarre-Huff’s nostalgic costumes provide an attractively retro aesthetic. Vocals suffer from inconsistent mic levels, washing out some lines and solos and turning ensemble pieces into walls of garbled sound. The cast’s enthusiasm prevails nonetheless, and Nicole Helfer’s choreography keeps things lively and fun.

‘Grease’ runs Saturday and Sunday through June 16 at the Cushing Memorial Amphitheatre. 801 Panoramic Hwy., Mill Valley. 2pm. $20–$45. 415.383.1100

By Nicole Singley

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