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July 21, 2005

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Theater in the Park draws big

Thousands come out to Veterans Park for Grease

by Michelle Saturley 

John Campanello had hoped for a good-sized audience for the opening night of Grease, but he wasn’t prepared for the massive throng — well over 1,000 people — who carried their kids, blankets and chairs onto the lawn of Veterans Park on Friday, July 15.

“This is beyond my wildest expectations,” the New Thalian Players board member said, just minutes before the production started. “Twelve months ago this was just an idea, and now it’s here. I can’t believe how many people came out to show their support.”

The play started at 8:30, but by 7:30, the park was packed. The pre-show entertainment, provided by Arthur Murray Studio dancers, encouraged the crowd to get up and dance to ’50s music. Meanwhile, New Thalian volunteers handed out every single one of the 1,000 programs they’d printed for the weekend run of the show. Others sold raffle tickets for door prizes donated by community businesses.

Behind the scenes, Campanello and Ken Drinan, the man who came up with the idea for “Theater in the Park,” paced like expectant fathers until show time. Drinan was dressed in a three-piece suit for the occasion, and agreed that he felt as though the show was his “baby.”

The company of Grease pressed on through street noise, fire engine sirens and several airplanes — just a few hazards of outdoor theater in Manchester — to present a high-energy, madcap romp through some well-known and beloved material. Standout numbers included “Hand Jive,” “Greased Lightning,” “Beauty School Dropout” and Rizzo’s ballad, “There Are Worse Things I Could Do.” George Piehl’s tongue-in-cheek direction was the obvious mastermind for some classic sight gags and silly bits, while Susan Horne’s choreography kept the musical numbers fun to watch. The cast’s obvious joy at being on stage was contagious: the audience whooped and cheered after each song, and, at the show’s conclusion, gave a standing ovation.

“Should we do this next year?” Campanello, who served as the emcee for the evening, asked the crowd during intermission.

The crown cheered back its answer, “Yes!”