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Emily Brodzik, Josh Rinehart and Emily Hanck. perform during the opening scene of “Grease.” NewsTribune photo/Scott Anderson
If you go
“Grease,” produced in partnership with Illinois Valley Cellular and presented by special arrangement with Samuel French Inc., will be presented July 19-21, 26-28 and Aug. 2-4 at Stage 212, 700 First St., La Salle. Friday and Saturday performances begin at 7:30 p.m. Saturday and Sunday matinees begin at 2 p.m. Tickets are available to the general public for $20 each. Box office hours are 4-6 p.m. Monday, 1-4 p.m. Wednesday and 9 a.m.-noon Saturday. Tickets also may be reserved over the phone with Visa, MasterCard or Discover. Call (815) 224-3025 for details and watch for additional shows if scheduled performances continue to sell out.
Stage 212 entered the summer season with a dilemma: What show would appeal to a local audience and spur the company’s up-and-comers to try out for parts? The answer, in a word, was “Grease” — or, put another way, “Grease is the word.” The company’s board elected to revive the Jim Jacobs/Warren Casey classic and the news set off a stampede both at the box office and at the stage door. “It’s been overwhelming,” director Phil Grant said. “Our first open ticket day was (July 1) and we’ve sold out several performances already.” Producer Natalie Smigel was no less pleased to see young performers, many of them veterans of Stage 212’s children’s productions, make a beeline for auditions. Smigel had grown up watching the hit screen adaptation starring John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John and listening to the best-selling soundtrack; it was delightful to learn virtually all her actors knew, and loved, the dialogue and music. “It’s a fun show. You can’t help but have fun,” Smigel said. “This is a show you want your kids to see. You’ve got fond memories of it and you want the next generation to see it.” “Grease” tells the story of teenage love, angst and peer pressure set in the 1950s at fictional Rydell High School. Danny Zuko (Derek Zinke) and Sandy Dumbrowski (Dinelle Wood) fall in love while spending their summer vacation at the beach; but once the morning bell rings at Rydell the young lovers find their romance tested in unexpected ways. Playwrights Jacobs and Casey have said in interviews that “Grease” was inspired by the tumultuous events of the late 1960s, including the Vietnam War and civil insurrections that swept cities and campuses across America. Jacobs and Casey noted with dismay how youths were being embroiled — and embittered — in the upheaval and wanted to celebrate more innocent times in the 1950s when kids still could be kids. Their response was a nostalgic look at ‘50s America, when teens were more fixated on fast cars, eking out passing grades and finding that special someone at the drive-in or prom. The result was a massive hit on stage and screen, yielding memorable songs including the title track, “Summer Nights,” “You’re the One that I Want,” “We Go Together” and “Greased Lightning.” Grant and Smigel found almost all their performers knew these numbers by heart. Smigel noted that just under half the performers are veterans of Stage 212’s children’s productions, fulfilling a Stage 212 objective to nurture young performers and keep the community theater up and running for generations to come. Emily Brodzik, who plays Rizzo, is among the performers who cut her teeth in Stage 212 youth productions. She needed no persuasion to try out for this particular show. “I just love ‘Grease,’” Brodzik said. “It’s a timeless show, everybody knows the music and it’s just a fun show altogether.” Curiously, the lone member of the cast who hadn’t seen “Grease” ended up with the lead role. Zinke knew so little about the production that friends had to spur him on to audition for the part of Danny. Zinke is thus an anomaly among the cast, being a Stage 212 newcomer who’d never seen “Grease” all the way through until a month ago. That is not to say he isn’t enjoying himself. “It’s fun to learn it and figure it out,” Zinke said. Wood had no such obstacles to learning her part. As a child, she was presented with a VHS copy of “Grease” that included a complete script. “I started to memorize it when I was 8,” she said. “So when I heard ‘Grease’ was coming to Stage 212, I was ecstatic and I had to try out.” Rhodes Garland, who plays Kenickie, also grew up listening to the “Grease” soundtrack, as both his mother and grandmother were big fans. “I just remember always singing the songs, just loving the show and loving the movie as long as I can remember,” Garland said. While memorizing the lines has posed no difficulty at all for Rhodes, cultivating a personalized take on Kenickie has been more of a challenge than he’d have expected. He’s seen the film so many times that Jeff Conaway’s performance is deeply embedded in his memory; it’s taken no small effort to make the part his own. Wood, too, has had to deviate from her screen recollections. On stage, Sandy is a more outspoken and spunkier character than the diffident and prudent girl portrayed in film by Newton-John. The variation in female lead was one of several changes to emerge when “Grease” was adapted for film in 1978. Nevertheless, Stage 212 viewers will find the production both familiar and enjoyable. The audience will recognize the characters’ dress (leather jackets and pompadours, poodle skirts and ponytails) as well as the up-tempo score performed by a rock ensemble with horns section. As in the film, the stage version is filled with suggestive innuendo. Smigel recommended that parents consider whether to take young children. Grant, however, said he dialed back some of the racier elements of the stage version and the content borrows heavily from the PG-rated film. Rounding out the cast are Emily Hanck as Marty, Jacob Damron as Sonny, Abby Derix as Frenchy, Kyle Showen as Doody, Sadie Smith as Jan, Erich Jauch as Roger, Ashley Keegan as Patty Simcox, Josh Rinehert as Eugene Florczyk, Sarah Senica as Teen Angel, Claire Wojciechowski as Cha-Cha Digregorio, Collin Groleau as Freddy My Love, Pam Paden as Miss Lynch and Kyle Adelman as Vince Fontaine. Featured dancers will be Claire Wojciechowski (dance captain), Erin Jauch, Haley Booker and Clarissa Gerrard. Featured in the ensemble are Dominic Passini, Alex Way, Raley Mauck, Abby Smith, Andrew Paden, Adam Peterlin, Alyssa Plochochi, Gabriella Dhesse, Josie Needs, Aaron Pellican, Marco Gutierrez and Collin Groleau. Assisting Grant and Smigel are music director Christine Adelman and choreographer Neal Phelps. Tom Collins can be reached at (815) 220-6930 or courtreporter@news trib.com.
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