Wilson High School has gone back to the fabulous ’50s, as the newly formed Ram Actors Guild puts the finishing touches on its production of “Grease,” opening Feb. 1 in the Woodrow Wilson Performing Arts Center on campus.
This is an auspicious occasion for the high school in numerous ways. The staging of “Grease” will officially christen the school’s fully renovated performance facility, and this is also Wilson’s first time to stage such a grand production. Wilson English teacher Brent Chandler is the play’s associate producer. With his background in school plays back when he was a Wilson student, and the minor in theater he earned at Pacific Lutheran University, he has taken a lead in bringing “Grease” to life at the high school.
“We’ve always done stage productions, but they’ve been a quick one-act or smaller plays,” he said. “We’ve never taken a show from Broadway and brought it here to the high school, so this is our first big-time, fully-licensed Broadway show.”
Another highlight is that Wilson’s class of 1959, the high school’s first graduating class, will be celebrated as well at the show. Chandler said many of these alumni will be in attendance and that some of them have donated props and items from the ’50s era to help with the show. “It’s ironic that the play is based in 1959 as well, so it made for a nice tie-in to celebrate our first graduating class,” he said. Projections on two tall side screens onstage will feature images of real seniors from the ‘59 Wilson High yearbook.
Since early October the student actors have been rehearsing heavily under the direction of retired Wilson teacher Sue Beer, who has returned to the high school to teach drama for the next couple years. The show includes a live, seven-piece band with musical direction by Wendy Shepard and Michael Herb, full costuming, songs, dances and lots of laughs as well.
Wilson’s performance of “Grease” is primarily based around the popular Broadway show, but anyone who has seen the 1978 film starring John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John will know the story very well.
Given that the movie, and its soundtrack, were so popular at the time and continue to attract new fans, several of those songs were incorporated into Wilson’s production (the “Grease” soundtrack was the second-best selling album of 1978 behind “Saturday Night Fever”).
“We have received license for, and included, three songs that are part of the movie and not the Broadway version,” Chandler said, “and mainly because they’re songs that are very known.” For example, the play opens with the song “Grease,” sung originally for the soundtrack album by Frankie Valli and then became a number-one hit single. “We wanted people to have that connection since most of them associate ‘Grease’ with the movie.”
The two main characters, Sandy Dumbrowski and Danny Zuko, are played by a real-life couple – junior Emily Tharp and senior Dakota Logar. This adds a nice element to the play. “They have some fun chemistry onstage and you can see it,” Chandler said.
Tharp laughed about how she and Logar are required to interact as the play focuses on Sandy and Danny’s love life. She said expressing emotions at Logar onstage proved somewhat challenging, especially during scenes of conflict. “Going back and forth hating him one minute and liking him the next, then falling for him… It was just hard for me to be mean to him and push him and stuff like that,” she said.
Logar said he is just proud to be part of the show. “It’s a time commitment. The time we’ve dedicated to this has consumed the rest of our lives. As high school students, we love our social life and our friends, and it can be hard to give that up and focus on something else.” Both young actors said above all else, it is fun. “Learning and working with Ms. Beer has been the best,” Tharp said.
Chandler said all the students deserve a standing ovation for their work on making “Grease” the best it can be.
“They’ve donated a huge amount of their social lives to this, but it’s a true testament to them and how successful they want to make it,” he said. “They’re taking a lot of pride in this show.”
Presented in Woodrow Wilson Performing Arts Center – with all new (and very comfortable) seats, wider aisles, new carpeting, new lighting and a new sound system – “Grease” promises to be a must-see event.
“Grease” continues Feb. 2, 8 and 9. Tickets are $10 general admission and $7 for students with ASB card. Prior to each performance, tickets go on sale at 6 p.m., doors open at 6:30 p.m. and curtain goes up at 7 p.m.