Nostalgia can be a time machine. Watching “Grease,” it’s hard not to be dazzled by retro cars, leather jackets and poodle skirts.
However, the musical isn’t noteworthy for what is dated but rather what has endured. The students of Rydell High face drug abuse, body dysmorphia, violence, teen pregnancy, first loves, first heartbreaks and more, growing from their mistakes all the while.
Elizabeth Dahlen, a junior at the Sun Valley Community School, plays Eugene in their production of “Grease.”
“It still resonates with teens today because it’s simply about wanting to be accepted,” Dahlen said.
Freshman Lizzie Loving plays Patty Simcox.
“There are many examples of social pressure, which is something that is very current in our day and age,” Loving said. “Seeing how the characters come together in the end and resolve their problems is inspiring.”
Catch some “Grease Lightning” in the Community School Theater, Nov. 3-5 at 7 p.m. Tickets cost $8 for students and $12 for adults. Get them quick—Friday has already sold out.
While this production is mostly faithful to the original script, they removed lines deemed racist, sexist or homophobic. Choreographer Megan Mahoney tries to be the role model for students she needed at that age. While maintaining iconic dances, she helped usher the show into the modern age.
“There are jokes and various lines in the show that now, in 2022, are not appropriate, are outdated or are culturally insensitive,” Mahoney said. “It has been really enlightening working with this cast because they are incredibly well-educated on what does and doesn’t work anymore.”
They even updated Sandy’s motivations.
“I have grown up watching Olivia Newton John and John Travolta strutting around my TV, but I never really understood why Sandy would change herself for a guy,” Loving said. “In this show ... Sandy doesn’t change for Danny, she changes for herself.”
Sophomore Ida Belle Gorby plays Johnny Casino.
“You have to let go of what is holding you behind to become your true self,” Gorby said.
This has sparked many constructive conversations with the cast and crew.
“What has stood the test of time and what audiences come to the show for is the iconic music,” Mahoney said.
It’s true—the rockabilly tunes are timeless. Junior Cassius Klingenfuss as Doody sings “Those Magic Changes,” a love song to music itself.
“I myself am a very music oriented person—I jam out to Taylor Swift and cry to Bon Iver because their music means so much to me,” Klingenfuss said. “This love for music makes it clear that Doody has a ton of empathy and compassion for the people around him, even if he doesn’t like to tap into that softer side.”
Klingenfuss’ favorite song in the show is “Look At Me, I’m Sandra Dee.”
“It’s just so extra and dramatic,” Klingenfuss said. “It also exposes a lot of what the characters allow themselves to buy into.”
Sophomore Elyse Duffield plays Rizzo, the misunderstood “mean girl.” Her favorite song in the show is “There Are Worse Things I Could Do.”
“Rizzo is singing to Sandy and expressing how she really feels under the layers of toughness and confidence to reveal her true self,” Duffield said.
Director Kevin Wade is a fan of the eleven o’clock torch ballad, so his favorites are “Hopelessly Devoted To You” and “There Are Worse Things I Could Do.”
“I guess I’m just an angsty guy, so those numbers speak to me on that level,” Wade said.
He grew up watching the iconic movie with John Travolta and Olivia Newton John.
“I’ve been surprised and delighted to find that this generation of students is very familiar with the music,” Wade said.
One obstacle he did not expect was that several of the iconic songs—“Sandy,” “You’re The One That I Want,” “Grease”—do not exist in the stage musical version of the show. They had to license each one separately from the respective record companies that hold the rights.
“When those familiar songs start playing, it’s impossible not to find yourself tapping your toes along to the beat,” Wade said.
While directing a show, he stays away from YouTube.
“Looking at other productions locks me in to preconceived notions about what a song or a scene should be, and going in without that context allows me to stay open to what the actors are bringing to the table,” Wade said.
Back in the day, as a young thespian at the Community School, he played the title character of “Hamlet” his junior year.
“I’m sure the performance was chaotic and confusing, not very skillful,” he said, “but the experience of working on that role at that age is what made me fall in love with Shakespeare.”
While directing, he meets students where they are.
“Teaching is a constant feedback loop of inspiration,” Wade said. “I get so much joy from these young people, and I try to throw that energy back at them as much as I can.”
Performing all around the Wood River Valley, he directs from an actor’s perspective. He humps into rehearsals and demonstrates the energy they are after. Whenever students get sidetracked, he asks them the same question.
“What is the simple story being told here? The answer to that question almost always leads us to discover what needs to happen in the scene,” Wade said.
He believes high school theater works best when the actors play teens.
“The greatest thing an actor can bring to a role is their own lived experience,” Wade said.
Sophomore Paisley Shapiro feels like the real-life Frenchy.
“I always try to be the light in the darkness and enter every room with a beam of positivity,” Shapiro said. “I make sure to put my own sassy spin on my outfits, poses and mannerisms.”
Klingenfuss’s personality shines on stage.
“I’m just myself, but living in Doody’s rockstar fantasy.”
Despite the students busy schedules, they are able to come together to make something great.
“No matter how my day is going,” said Duffield, “I am able to walk in the door and escape.” ￼