‘Grease’ is still the word at Toby’s Dinner Theatre

WTOP's Jason Fraley previews 'Grease' at Toby's Dinner Theatre (Part 1)

The 1972 musical was a Broadway smash before the 1978 movie cemented it in our pop culture.

This spring, Toby’s Dinner Theatre stages “Grease” now through June 11 in Columbia, Maryland.

“We opened on March 24, and every performance has been sold out,” Director Mark Minnick told WTOP. “The people are loving it. They are cheering after every number, not just polite applause, but cheering. At the end, we get standing ovations, screaming and cheering, because we do this great hand-jive finale. We do have seats available almost any show … but Tuesday and Wednesday nights actually have the best availability at this time.”

Set at the fictional Rydell High School in 1959, the timeless story follows the budding teenage romance between Danny Zuko, a leather-jacket-wearing member of a bad-boy gang of Greasers, and Sandy Dombrowski, a prim and proper suburban girl who joins the popular clique The Pink Ladies led by the sassy Rizzo.

“It’s a nostalgic tour through the ’50s,” Minnick said. “A lot of people in the arts tend to poo poo ‘Grease,’ oh, it’s not Sondheim, it’s not heavy. … Everything doesn’t need to be so deep and heavy-handed; sometimes a nice laugh and a joyous memory is just what you need. The value in ‘Grease’ is there are characters everyone can relate to, it’s humorous, there are some serious moments and the music is just feel-good music, just song after song after song.”

The songbook features numbers from the original Broadway production by Jim Jacobs, Warren Casey and John Farrar, including “Summer Nights,” “Greased Lightnin’,” “Beauty School Dropout,” “There Are Worse Things I Could Do” and “We Go Together.” You’ll also hear songs that Farrar added for the movie from “Hopelessly Devoted To You” to “You’re the One That I Want,” made famous by John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John, who died in 2022.

“When the first beats of the music ‘bum, ba da, ba da’ start of ‘Summer Nights,’ you see people sit up in their seats, their heads start to go and their bodies start to bop,” Minnick said. “We do have a (‘Greased Lightnin’) car that lights up. … The finale on Broadway was ‘All Choked Up,’ but we’re doing ‘You’re the One That I Want.’ In the movie, it takes place at the carnival, but here at Toby’s Dinner Theatre it takes place at the Burger Palace.”

If you want a bite to eat, you can grab themed food and drinks at the buffet during intermission.

“Our drink for this show is called The Pink Lady and you get a take-home souvenir ‘Grease’ goblet with that,” Minnick said. “We do have a little fun and name each entrée after a character. … We always have our signature spinach phunque, so it’s called Spinach Phunque: It’s the One That You Want. That’s our main one for this.”

Minnick has a long history with “Grease,” having staged various productions around the world from China to Istanbul, as well as the U.S. national tour with Phoenix Entertainment, starring Frankie Avalon as Teen Angel. No matter where he takes the show, he always makes sure to include cast members from the DMV.

“The talent here in the D.C. area can’t be matched,” Minnick said. “Our Danny Zuko is Patrick Gover. Anybody who saw ‘Rocky’ or ‘Ghost,’ he played Rocky and Sam, the Patrick Swayze role. … Our Sandy is Cassie Saunders, who grew up through Toby’s Columbia Center for Theatrical Arts, CCTA. I had a chance to work with her a couple times. She graduated college, came back and I said, ‘You know what? I think Cassie would make a great Sandy.”

In the end, it’s all about creating nostalgic memories for the audience.

“I personally love ‘Grease,'” Minnick said. “I think there’s such value in the title because it brings such joy. … At intermission, people are talking, ‘I was a Sandy in high school’ or ‘I was a Rizzo.’ They just love it. People come in their T-Bird jackets, their Pink Lady shirts and jackets, they’re just there to celebrate and have a good time.”

Find more information here.

WTOP's Jason Fraley previews 'Grease' at Toby's Dinner Theatre (Part 2)

Listen to our full conversation here.

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Jason Fraley

Hailed by The Washington Post for “his savantlike ability to name every Best Picture winner in history," Jason Fraley began at WTOP as Morning Drive Writer in 2008, film critic in 2011 and Entertainment Editor in 2014, providing daily arts coverage on-air and online.

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