This Friday, VCU Theatre goes steady with the age of poodle skirts, leather jackets and slicked-back hair in the opening night of their production of “Grease,” directed by Patti D’Beck.
While the show will feature classic numbers recognizable to ears of all ages, including “Greased Lightnin’” and “Summer Nights,” it overall varies considerably from the well-known 1978 John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John movie. Instead, as an eight-year Broadway show with seven Tony Awards to its credit, this VCU production will offer perhaps a less-known interpretation of a popular pop culture placeholder.
“We made it more fun,” said Alan Vollmer, who portrays one of the ensemble’s awkwardly humorous nerds, added in as a VCU twist to the original script. “The normal script had more serious moments. We cut out some of the fluff but (still give) the same message.”
The sheer size of the cast alone contributes significantly to the show’s grandeur, accentuating extra dance numbers not innate in the show’s script.
“It’s one of the biggest shows we’ve done,” said Justin Ahdoot, who plays the greaser character Sunny.
Numerous cast members agreed that VCU’s inherently elevated level of diversity is one of several elements that make this production of “Grease” unique from any other cast’s interpretation, with the leads and ensemble each displaying a range of ethnicities.
The undertaking of a musical, when VCU Theatre is traditionally a non-musical based program, allowed for the actors to broaden and hone their skills via the shows demand for vocal and dance requirements.
For actress Katie Ford, who plays Rizzo, this production brings her full circle as it prompts her to revisit her high school acting career, wherein she previously embodied the role of Frenchy.
Top-notch professionalism speaks volumes of the dedication and effort invested by all members of “Grease” involved from actors, to costume and set designers, to choreographers and so on.
One inescapable difficulty presented by the show, and widely agreed upon by the cast, was the necessity to portray the colloquialisms of the period in an organic and believable manner. This was an obstacle applicable not just in the language, but also in costumes and props reaching from the dresses to the jackets all the way down to the tiniest details, such as the hairbrush that serves as a makeshift microphone during one of the earlier numbers. However, it is a hurdle cast members promise to clear gracefully, as was evident during their Tuesday evening tech rehearsal.
Cast and crew work together in near seamless tandem, rolling massively and therefore at times awkwardly, to maneuver set pieces on and off stage, including a diner bar, bedroom window and independently constructed and running ‘50s vintage cruiser.
VCU theater students aim to eradicate certain negative stereotypes associated with this production in favor of its less-acknowledged, yet arguably present, positive themes, including the show’s relatability to students today and the idea of not changing for others, but for yourself.
“(We’re) challenging the stereotypes,” said cast member Josh Marin. “Looking to yourself to figure out why you want to change.”
“We’ve all been there – recently,” agreed Cat Wheelehan, who portrays good-girl-gone-pink Sandy Olsen. “We haven’t been out of high school that long. ‘Grease’ deals with surprisingly mature issues for high school … (and) we bring a level of honesty not presented in the movie.
“It’s not about a girl who changes herself for a boy. It’s about a girl who’s bored with what she sees in the mirror, sees something new in front of her and takes the leap. So if you’re not looking for a show about a girl who changes for a boy, that’s good, because that’s not the show you’ll see.”
With Friday’s opening night already sold out, students are left with Nov. 5, 10 -12, 17 and 19 at 7:30 p.m., and Nov. 6, 13 and 20 at 3:00 p.m. to experience what promises to be yet another stunning exhibit of the talent VCU theatre has to offer.
Tickets can be purchased through the Theatre VCU Box Office at the Singleton Center for the Performing Arts, vcutheatre.showclix.com, or by contacting the box office at 804-828-6026.