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Mean girls and tough guys… 50s style

Youtheatre presents Grease

By Michael Summers


Fort Wayne Reader


Youtheatre’s 76th season launches Saturday, October 10 with the original “high school musical” Grease, and the play’s young cast is trying to get their heads around a world in which The Mickey Mouse Club was considered cool.

“They referenced The Mickey Mouse Club as something cool,” says Andy Canaveral, who plays tough guy Kenickie. “I was like… was this cool in the 50s? Why would these greasers go watch The Mickey Mouse Club?”

Sam DeMoya, who plays Danny Zucco, agrees. “Yeah. They’re these big, tough guys who steal car parts and get in fights, and then they’re ‘let’s go watch The Mickey Mouse Club’?” He shrugs. “I don’t get it.”

DeMoya continues: “And they talk about a ‘D.A.’ Do you know what that is? I guess it’s a hair style. I didn’t know.”

Grease first began life as a stage musical in 1972. It was tremendously successful back then, with one of the longest performance runs in Broadway history, and the 1978 film version starring John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John cemented its place in pop culture history.

Just to recap, the story centers around a gang of tough guys (the Burger Palace Boys) led by Danny Zucco and second-in-command Kenickie, and a gang of tough girls (the Pink Ladies) led by Rizzo (Halee Brandt) during their senior year at Rydell High School in 1959. Sandy, the new girl at school (played by Mara GiaQuinta), is a sweet “cheerleader type,” and strikes up an unlikely romance with Danny. Complications, and lots of musical numbers, ensue.

But Olivia Torres — who plays Pink Lady Marty, the “sophisticated” one — says that despite some mystification over the 50s references, it’s not at all difficult to relate to the story or the characters. “Sock hops, poodle skirts, greased hair… I knew those things about the 50s. But the play is still about high school students, living their lives. It’s not that different.”

Halle Brandt (Rizzo) says that obviously the more adult humor from the stage and film version has been edited out of this production, but while Youtheatre’s Grease is more family-friendly, the great songs are still there. And Rizzo is still a tough chick. “She’s definitely not what anyone would consider a ‘girly-girl,’” says Brandt, who seems to have found a niche for herself at Youtheatre playing mean women: last season she was Sharpay in High School Musical 2 and the Wicked Witch of the West in The Wizard of Oz. “(Rizzo) knows what she’s about, and she’ll tell it like it is. My favorite scene is the slumber party scene, where Sandy snaps and starts hitting her.”

Mara GiaQuinta, who is making her Youtheatre debut as Sandy, cites that as one of her favorite scenes, too. “Sandy is a nice girl. She wants to be well-liked. But I like that she knows who she is,” GiaQuinta explains. “She thinks these other girls are a little too risqué for her. It’s fun to work against them on stage.”

Also filling out the Pink Ladies are Darby Bixler as Jan (“I was one of Halee’s minions in High School Musical 2, and now I’m another minion of Halee”), and Keionna Harrison as Frenchy, the aspiring beautician who is actually sort of… well, nice. “Frenchy sees the good in everyone,” Harrison says. “She always tries to help Sandy and make her feel good about herself even when the Pink Ladies are mean to her.”

And of course, the Pink Ladies are all sugar and spice compared to Cha Cha (Hunter DeBolt). “She pretty much from the other side of the tracks,” laughs DeBolt. “My favorite scene? The one where I’m teaching Eugene (the nerdy kid, played by Matthew Faley) to dance.”

Mrs. Lynch, one of the adult roles in Grease, is played by Arwen Courtney. The role is sort of suited to Courtney; as one of the few adult authority figures in Grease, Mrs. Lynch often bosses the students around and tells them what to do, an exaggerated (and meaner) version of Courtney’s usual task at Youtheatre: stage manager. Courtney says she was thrilled to be able to get up on stage for Grease. “I have watched the movie every time I was home sick for the last 20 years,” she says.

Courtney is in her 30s, and says she was sort of surprised by how many of the younger cast members also knew the film version and were very familiar with the music. That can be both a help and a hindrance, according to Eileen Alhersmeyer, the production’s musical director. She says she actually told them to stop listening to the soundtrack during rehearsals. “Most of them have seen the movie, but the kids have to learn that that’s not necessarily how we’re going to do it,” she says. “There were choices made for the movie to suit those actors, even though that may not be how the part was originally written.”

But more importantly, Alhersmeyer says the young actors need to find their own voice and their own approach to the characters. Samuel DeMoya (Danny Zucco) says he was glad to get the advice: he had been trying to play Danny with a Brooklyn accent, and it just wasn’t working. “She told me ‘don’t play it based on the movie. Be your own actor. Find your own Danny.’”

Youtheatre Executive Director Harvey Cocks is enjoying giving the actors a “crash course” in 50s slang and pop culture. “My only problem with the cast is that they’re all too nice,” he laughs. “This is kind of a tough crowd in Grease, the characters are kind of rough around the edges. Trying to get this cast to relate to kids who steal car parts is tough. But we’re having a great time with it.”

Youtheatre presents Grease
Arts United Center
303 East Main Street
Saturday, October 10 at 2:00 pm
Sunday, October 11 at 2:00 pm
Tickets: $15.00 – adults and students
Box Office opens Monday, October 5 — Friday, October 9. Noon – 4 pm
Call (260) 422-4226

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