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Belasco Brings "Grease" to Summer Nights

The theatre company's youth production of Grease at the Hermosa Beach Playhouse allows a former Doody to reminisce.

I was taken back to 1993 during the opening of the nostalgic, rollicking rock 'n' roll musical Grease at the Hermosa Beach Playhouse Friday night. That's the year I played Doody in Chino Hill's Ruben S. Ayala High School production.

I could see and hear my former cast mates as I enjoyed the heart and soul the Belasco Theatre Company's troupe was pouring into every number.

The cast ranged in age from 7-year-old Laila Viklund to 18-year-olds Gavin Quan and Isaak Berliner, who played Danny. Belasco's mission as a youth theatre company is to boost self-esteem and teach children the power of their own potential.

"It's been really tough," Berliner said about taking on the lead role. "I'm not a very confident person in the 'real' world, but as Danny I have to act confidently. Playing Danny has really upped my confidence with people."

Kiersey Clemons, Friday night's Sandy, also admitted that she has grown personally since getting involved in the company. As one of the newer members of the group, Grease marks her second performance in a musical, having only performed as a dancer and choir singer prior.

"It's been a lot of fun, and has helped me break out of my shell," Clemons said. "I can now get on stage and be really comfortable."

She added that she might not participate next year, as her schedule has filled with auditions for professional work.

"I want [the children] to learn about responsibility, professionalism, working as a team, always giving 100 percent and more," explained company director Shanti Belasco-Glynn, whose father, Edward Belasco, started the theatre group 29 years ago in Walnut Creek.

The Belasco Company holds auditions twice each year with a summer session available for training in dance, voice and acting. No experience is necessary for children to join and parents are encouraged to get involved, as I found they made up the house staff and back stage crew Friday night.

Belasco-Glynn spoke briefly before Friday's show, telling the eager audience of friends and family, "Sit back, but don't relax too much because we're going to rock and roll!"

The lights came up on a very impressive a capella three-part harmony of Rydell High School's "Alma Mater," involving the entire cast of 41.  Then, the rock and roll really started.

The Burger Palace Boys and Pink Ladies sang and danced through teenage love, using a toned-down version of the show that avoids some of the language present in the original.

The excitement in the air was palpable as spontaneous clapping with the music broke out in the audience during numbers, and even as music played at the scene changes.

But it was "Beauty School Dropout" that really brought the house down with Hayley Maeda's vocal power and gospel styling of a song usually performed by a man, if you recall Frankie Avalon's rendition in the film.

The cast, split into "rockers" and "rollers" that alternate roles each night, handled the material professionally, playing through the few inevitable opening night fumbles with poise and verve. This energy carried through to the show's finale, a medley of songs, like the popular party favorite, "Grease Megamix."

The production completes Belasco's sixth season, contrasting with the company's last production, Fiddler on the Roof, and providing upbeat, family-friendly fare to kick off summer in the South Bay.

The show made me want to get a reunion organized with my former Grease cast members. I know that someday when Berliner, Clemons and others watch Grease the movie, see a touring production, or even watch their own children perform this American classic, they'll think back to the 2010 summer show in Hermosa Beach with fondness.

Grease plays through July 11 at 7:30 p.m. on Friday and Saturday nights, and 2 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday. There is no show on Sunday, July 4, so a special show will play on Thursday, July 1, at 7:30 p.m.

As a Southern California native, Rhett Nadolny has worked in various mediums as an actor, writer and photographer across the South Bay. Having performed at the Hermosa Beach Playhouse, Nadolny serves as a familiar face within the Hermosa Beach arts community.

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