By, Phoenix Robertson
This February Heritage High School’s Theater Department showed off their talents in their production of the famous play, Grease! The show was performed a total of ten times. Over the two weeks of performances, the main cast was rotated to feature different actors in many of the available roles. As a longtime fan of Grease, I was amazed at the talents of the actors and actresses, as well as how much work went into the production of this play. Keep reading to learn more about the history of Grease and to read exclusive interviews with the cast!
History of Grease
Grease first slid onto the stage in 1971 as a play written by Jim Jacobs and Warren Casey. It was first performed in a Chicago nightclub, which is a tribute to the play’s originally less-than-school appropriate contents. This iconic series of plays, films, and television-series adaptations gets its name from the 1950s and 1960s American youth subculture known as “the greasers”. “Greasers” during the 50s and 60s were considered to be any rebellious and rule breaking youth who came from the lower and middle classes. The typical greaser clothing style included leather jackets, work wear, jeans, and tight fitting t-shirts. This style was in direct defiance of the social norms of the 50s and 60s, which included the clean cut and stick-to-the-status-quo ideas that arose in America after World War Ⅱ.
The story of Grease saw a resurgence in popularity in 1978 with the premiere of the story’s first film adaptation, Grease. The film starred John Travolta, as leading man Danny Zuko, and Olivia Newton-John, as sweet Sandra Dombrowski. The supporting cast included Didi Conn as Frenchy, Jeff Conaway as Kenickie, Stockard Channing as Rizzo, Dinah Manoff as Marty, and Kelly Ward as Roger. Grease was directed by Randal Kleiser, and with a budget of only $6 million dollars, magic was made. The film was a box office mega-hit grossing 396.3 million dollars. The Grease franchise didn’t stop at the production of its first film. The story continued in the sequel, Grease 2, which again told the story of the Pink Ladies and T-Birds, but to a less successful extent than the first film. The film, released in 1982, starred Michelle Pfeiffer as Stephanie Zinnone and Maxwell Caulfield as Michael Carrington.
The story depicted in the Heritage Theater’s version of Grease was very similar to the story depicted in the 1978 movie version of Grease. The play depicted the love story of Sandy Dombrowski and Rydell High’s local heartthrob, Danny Zuko. Their summer love turned complicated when the two decided to just be friends, but then ended up attending the same high school for their senior year. Their romance unfolds over the course of the play, and the audience is also introduced to the other students of Rydell, including Rizzo, Kenickie, Doody, Frenchy, Jan, Roger, and many more.. The show included a number of noteworthy songs, such as “Summer Nights”, “Greased Lightnin’”, and “Beauty School Dropout”.
In order to get the inside scoop on Grease and understand what it was like to be a part of such a stupendous production, I interviewed several members of the Grease cast. Their answers to my questions were enlightening and showed their deep dedication to the art of performance. Thank you to all those who participated in these interviews.
For my first interview, I spoke with Jessie Entwisle, a member of the ensemble in Grease who also played the role of the waitress. Jessie said that she has been taking theater classes since she was a middle school student, and her first experiences on the stage were here at Heritage with Frozen, Tarzan, and Grease under her belt. When asked about the preparation time it took to make the Grease show ‘stage ready’, Jessie told me that “the preparation was really long [as] it took the whole fall semester [and] the auditions took a while…because of the double casting.” This large time commitment demonstrates the devotion that these students have towards putting on a good show. She also clarified what many audience members may be thinking–how are they actually able to pull it all together? According to Jessie, you might be surprised to find that “it all came together during the last week,” with everyone working at a fever pitch. One of the parts of my interview with Jessie that I found to be the most touching was the way she talked about how strong the community is within the cast and crew: “Before every show, everyone circles up and we do a couple of traditions, like holding hands together and squeezing the hand of the person next to you… It’s just fun.” The students involved in these plays spend a great deal of time together, so it is wonderful to know that they are able to build a strong sense of community with each other. To conclude our interview, Jessie had a bit of advice to share with Heritage students that are interested in joining the theater program, “Take as many theater classes as you can, even if you don’t think you’re very good, you should still try out… you shouldn’t let anything intimidate you; if you really want to try out, you should do it.” You heard her folks, don’t let the possibility of failure stop you from success.
My second interview was with Brody Geckler, a junior here at Heritage. In Grease he was both a member of the ensemble and played the role of Vince Fontaine. Brody is no stranger to the stage and has been involved in numerous other performances here at Heritage, including Tarzan and Frozen. He then described his introduction to theater. “In 2017 I went to a production at the Raleigh Little Theater, and I started improv, which I wasn’t too good at… then I moved productions to Sonorous Road Theater, shout out, and it was super fun.” When asked to reflect on his experiences in Grease, Brody said that, although it can be stressful at times, “everything in life is stressful; theater is super fun [because] you get to work with everyone, and everyone is friendly… Phoebus, Jose, they’re all super nice” His glowing review of our school’s theater program speaks to the care and compassion that the theater department members show towards their students. Brody’s advice towards prospective theater students is to “Have fun, enjoy the people you’re working with, do what you gotta do, make sure you’re paying attention and know what you’re doing. ” This is wonderful advice, and I appreciate the emphasis on balance between having fun and enjoying yourself and understanding what you are supposed to be doing. This kind of balance can be difficult to find in life, but once a person understands how to achieve and sustain it, they will be able to enjoy their life more, while also being able to be productive in their work. To end our interview, Brody had a few words to share with the audience members of Grease and the Herald’s readers, “Come see Mean Girls, it’ll be great, and participate in theater if you want to!” Brody plans to continue his theater career, although he will not be in Mean Girls.
The third interview that I conducted was with Ava Jones, a junior at Heritage who has been practicing theater since the age of 8. In Grease, Ava played the role of Ms. Lynch, as well as Rydell’s assistant principal. Before being involved with Grease, Ava was also a member of the cast in Heritage’s productions of Frozen and Tarzan, as well as involved in numerous children’s theater productions. During our interview, Ava told me about a little problem that she ran into during the preparation period for Grease: “After I got my part at the beginning of December, I ended up injuring my knee, and I had to be on crutches for awhile, but Phoebus and Jose were very supportive.” Ava went on to tell me about how they worked with her so that she could keep her role in the play and still be an important piece of the performance. This again speaks to the empathy and zeal that the Heritage Theater Department holds for the proper care of their students. If you have an interest in performing in a play here at Heritage, Ava has this advice for you: “Audition for everything! Lots of people get nervous before auditions and only audition for one role, but get up there and audition for every single role. It’s kind of embarrassing, but do it anyway.” Thanks for your wonderful advice, Ava, and we can wait to see you in future Heritage High productions!
Thank you for reading this article and a huge thank you and round of applause to the members of the Heritage Theater Department for all of their hard work in showing all of our community members an excellent show. I would also like to extend a special thank you to all of the wonderful people that I interviewed to help create this article. I hope that you enjoyed this article and will consider going to Heritage High’s production of Mean Girls this spring. In the meantime, remember that “Grease is the word!”