By: Stefanie Sears
It is now springtime, which means that summer is right around the corner. What better way to kick off “summer nights” than with this year’s Mayo Performing Arts Center (MPAC) Annual Spring Musical “Grease.”
“Grease” is a 1971 musical by Jim Jacobs and Warren Casey detailing the lives of 1950s teenagers, particularly the “greaser” working class youth subculture. The story centers on Danny Zuko and Sandy Dumbrowski, two Rydell High School students from different worlds who are trying to rekindle their previous summer romance during the school year. According to director and MPAC Director of Education Cathy Roy, who directed last year’s Annual Spring Musical “Shrek the Musical,” this will not be a stereotypical cartoonish version of the period piece.
“We’re talking about real characters and we’re really exploring what makes them make certain decisions, their background, what their family lives are. This is based on a real school in Chicago and the real struggles and real gangs and real conflict when it was written. Over the years it’s evolved into a sort of a cartoon version where the characters are played sort of from the outside in, and ours is going to be a real version of vulnerable characters that are all going to be very likable to the audience where the audience can relate to them and feel for them. No one’s the bad guy in this production. There’s more to the story than what you think.”
This production of “Grease” has a cast of a 15 through 25 age range. This means that teenagers will play most teen characters. Most productions of “Grease,” including the 1978 film version starring John Travolta and Olivia Newton John and other shows and movies focused on adolescence, have performers in their 20s portraying younger characters.
For Roy, having a cast of kids playing kids is beneficial and accurate; having them depict a different generation brings up opportunities for discussion. Though kids of today are used to technology and social media, Roy believes there are still plenty of similarities between then and now.
“Kids don’t change,” she says, “Strip away all of the other outside influences, but people are basically the same. We’re really just trying to teach them to be in the moment, react to each other. Really get into the words and to what you’re saying. It’s such a blast. It’s so much fun.”
Alongside the students will be three guest seasoned equity performers, including a former Frankie Valli in the Norwegian Bliss production of “Jersey Boys” Christian Leadley playing leading man Danny Zuko and Glenn Devar as Kenickie. The face behind their “Teen Angel” is yet to be revealed.
Brianna Ascione, a dance major at Marymount Manhattan College who was last seen in the MPAC Annual Spring Musical of “West Side Story” as Anybodys in 2017, plays Sandy Dumbrowski. There can be two different interpretations of Sandy’s character. One is that she aims to change herself in order to fit in with Danny’s crowd. The other is that she always had the moxie to adapt but remained her squeaky-clean self in order to live up to her parents’ standards.
According to Roy, both are correct.
“I think there are two sides to everybody. I don’t think anybody falls in with any certain category. I think we’re all chameleons to a certain degree, where we change around certain people. But I don’t think Sandy’s a weak character. I think she’s strong from the beginning. I’m not playing it up that she all of a sudden becomes a ‘bad girl.’ I think she just says, ‘Hey listen, there’s a lot of sides to me just like there is a lot of sides to any woman, to any person.’ She would be a character in the end who still would stand by her principles. I just think it’s like ‘Maybe Danny’s seeing me in a different way.’ I’m not really playing up that whole idea that all of a sudden, she’s going to look so different so then he’s going to like her. I think it evolved and he sees that that strength has always been in her. I don’t think it’s a struggle between being bad or being good. I think it’s a strong Sandy shining through. I’m not planning on playing it up that she has completely changed and become one of them. If anything, I think she can positively influence them.”
“Grease” will play at MPAC May 31 through June 2. Tickets can be purchased by visiting www.mayoarts.org.