Capturing the essence of the late 1950s via the smash hit Grease has been a joy for the Hunting Hills High School drama department.
The school presents the famed musical at the Memorial Centre March 2-3, 8-9 and 10 with curtain at 7:30 p.m. Dinner theatre shows also run March 2-3.
Written by Jim Jacobs and Warren Casey, the musical, set in 1959, follows working-class teenagers as they navigate the complexities of love, cars, and drive-ins. Originally, the show was more on the raunchy side but it’s been tamed down in subsequent renditions.
Grease first was performed in 1971 in the original Kingston Mines Theatre in Chicago. It went on to be one of Broadway’s most long-running shows and a global hit, with the movie version released in 1978.
“When it went to Broadway it went from being a three and one-quarter hour play with a few songs in it to being a two hour play with 13 songs in it,” explains Bill Jacobsen, artistic director at Hunting Hills. “It was revamped but by the same writers.”
By the time the film hit the silver screen featuring Olivia Newton-John and John Travolta as central characters Sandy and Danny, Grease was, as already mentioned, a huge stage hit. The movie version added new songs and tweaked the story further – adding several parts and rearranging the plot sequence to a degree.
Jacobsen said Grease had been considered for a school production over the years, but the time proved just right when a new revised version written by the original playwrights was released.
Featuring a cast of 61, rehearsals have been running since last September. It’s been a massive project – there are some 300 costumes featured in the show and there are characters that go through seven costume changes. Nineteen tech students are also lending their skills to the production. “It’s the first show we’ve done where we’ve actually had to redesign some of the set to accommodate the numbers.”
Clearly, from a managerial point of view, Jacobsen has had his hands full. But he wouldn’t have it any other way. “I think the positives so outweigh the challenges that come out of that by far.”
Jacobsen said the vast majority of the students were familiar with both the film and much of the music from the show, which shows how incredibly popular Grease has remained over the years. The show will also feature school band Triple HS, which has been a terrific element to round out the production.
“They’re onstage the whole time in a giant juke box playing all the tunes.”
Of course, the music from Grease has endured, and plenty of the well-known tunes will be part of the school show (Summer Nights, Greased Lightning, Beauty School Drop-out and Look at Me, I’m Sandra Dee).
Meanwhile, the charm of these songs hasn’t been lost on the cast, even though they weren’t born yet when the film version of Grease was pulling in millions around the world. “With many Broadway tunes, the students aren’t familiar with a lot of the songs from a lot of the musicals,” says Jacobsen.
With Grease, it’s a whole different story. Cast members have been excited that the school at last is staging the show, as it’s been consistently requested by students over the years as a theatrical project.
“The one thing it has in common with a lot of the other shows we’ve done is that it has teenage characters at the heart of it,” he said. “We want to explore things of relevance and immediacy to our students. So we like to work with plays that have characters that are very accessible. This show absolutely has that.”
For tickets, call Ticket Central at 403-347-0800 or visit www.centralalbertatheatre.ca.