Eager performers rehearsing “Grease” include (back row): seniors Reed Roudabush, Bobby Corker, Chloe Chrysikopoulos, Jamie Wygle, Hannah Dies, Arielle Rawlings and junior Tara Burchmore. Front row: seniors Sam Rogers, Doug DuFur, Nick Wright and Jolie Blair.
"Grease” is the word for three nights at the Community School in Sun Valley this week, as the Upper School students present the classic musical that sealed actor John Travolta’s stature as a song-and-dance man, even in the tightest of pants.
Journey back to the fictional California Rydell High School in the 1950s and settle in as the hour-and-a-half musical follows 10 characters exploring complex issues such as love, friendship and teenage rebellion.
“We’ve been asking to do ‘Grease’ for a long time,” said Hannah Dies, who will play the lead character Sandy Olsson, the pure-heart-turned-vamp memorably played by singer and actress Olivia Newton John in the film production.
“It’s a classic, we’ve wanted to do this since we were freshman,” said student Nick Wright, who will play the part immortalized by Travolta, that of Danny Zuko.
“We’re doing this play because the kids demanded that we do it,” said Upper School drama teacher Keith Moore. “Why would we turn them down? We felt the compunction to let them have their swan song.”
The performance will also feature Jamie Wygle as Kenickie, Chloe Chrysikopoulos as Rizzo, Doug DuFur as Doody, Jolie Blair as Frenchy, Arielle Rawlings as Jan, Reed Roudabush as Roger and Sam Rogers as Sonny.
“Grease” introduces good girl Sandy and greaser Danny after a summer romance, and beginning their senior year in high school. The story follows the two characters as they navigate between friendships and their love life, as they and their friends negotiate various teenage dramas, involving high school crushes, gangs and other young-adult themes.
Weaving through scenes at the local burger joint, high school dance and classroom, the plot takes the audience through a year of high school life in the 1950s. The musical will follow the characters’ lives as they encounter and deal with adult issues for the first time. The original “Grease” script includes mature themes and uses some gritty language and innuendoes that had to be toned down in order to be acceptable for the school’s actors and audiences.
“We originally made it PG, but it has slowly evolved to PG-13 by popular demand,” said Moore. “The kids have slowly put back in every vice that we took out,” such as smoking fake electronic cigarettes and drinking fake alcohol. The faculty was consulted on the subject matter of the musical, and the mature themes were approved. This is a high school production, and these are things that maybe should be brought up.”
“It’s one of the few musicals where the kids get to play people their own age and characters with problems that they’re going through,” said co-director Patsy Wygle. “It’s very relatable to the high school age.”
The cast of more than 25 students—which has been rehearsing for four weeks—represents every Upper School grade.
“We have a tremendous group of seniors, as well as freshmen, sophomores and juniors,” Moore said. “Everybody has done a great job buckling down to make this happen, and the seniors have been a good example to the rest of the cast about being professional and getting the job done, while still having fun.”
The students have not neglected a full schedule of intense academics and sports teams to rehearse for the play, illustrating their commitment to its production.
“The kids are so busy—it’s amazing what they pull off,” Moore said. “Once they commit and once they free up time, they work really hard, and the school has done a great job making a schedule that’s flexible for everyone. The payoff will be opening night.”
Coming into rehearsal, the students were already familiar with the classic songs of the “Grease” musical, such as “Beauty School Dropout” and “Summer Nights.”
“They just needed a little help with the harmonies,” Moore said.
Musical director Brad Hershey has worked with the students to solidify the widely loved score.
The set of the musical has also been a challenge for the cast, as they have tried to figure out how to get a car onstage for the scene that takes place in Rydell High School’s auto shop.
The play utilizes eight different sets that move on and off stage with a limited amount of space. The “teen angel” sequence of the play has also been an entertaining challenge for the students, in choreographing the dream-like scene.
“How many times do you get to go on stage with a head of silver rollers and angel wings?” said Wygle.
The costumes have also been a favorite part of the production for the students, enabling them to wear 1950s-era clothing such as “pink lady” tight pants and leather jackets.
“It’s been a great bonding experience,” said Dies. “It is so fun to have one last hurrah together with all the other kids in the class that I’ve been acting with for a long time.”
The production will start at 7 p.m. on November 7, 8 and 9. Tickets will be sold at the Community School Performing Arts Center at the door. Prices will be $10 for adults and $5 for students.
Get some ‘greased lightning’
When: Thursday, Nov. 7, to Saturday, Nov. 9.
Where: The Community School Performing Arts Center, Sun Valley.
How: Tickets will be sold at the door.
How much: $10 for adults, $5 for students.