“Grease” is a movie, produced in 1978, starring Olivia Newton-John and John Travolta, but it’s also the WGHS drama department’s fall musical.
“It’s the third time Webster Groves High School has done it. They did it 1989, 2002, and we’re gonna do it now,” director Todd Schaefer said.
Library aide Lamar Fitzgerald was in the ‘89 production.
“I ended up doing tech and backstage. I think they also let me sing in “Greased Lightning.” Library aide Lamar Fitzgerald said.
Fitzgerald plans on attending the show.
“I’m excited,” Fitzgerald said.
The musical premiered in 1972.
“The big question is: is ‘Grease’ still relevant? Because it is such an old show, 1972,” Schaefer said.
Schaefer said it is.
“It’s talking about sex, drugs and rock and roll. 1958, but I see a lot of what the kids are dealing with now. We’re still dealing with teen pregnancy scares. We’re still dealing with kids drinking earlier than they should be. We’re still watching kids get their first cars and find freedom in so many ways,” Schaefer said.
“‘Grease’ is the last ditch effort of the adult populus going, ‘No, we are a pink and blue society,’ and the teenageres going, ‘No, we’re not. No, that’s just not cool.’ I like when theater can look back and go, ‘We’re still working on these problems. There’s still a problem, and we still need to work on them,’” Schaefer said.
Schaefer likes that “Grease” is an autobiography.
“These two guys that wrote it, are kind of the Danny and Kenickie of the story, and all of the characters are based on real people. Rydell High is based on Taft High School, where they attended high school in Southside, Chicago. Unlike the movie, this is about the lower economic sector of Chicago at that time. These are struggling high school kids,” Schaefer said.
“Hollywood sanitized it a bit and cleaned it up quite a bit. This is really a story about real kids from high school. I liked that aspect of it. I didn’t always like the idea of ‘Grease’ because I thought it was a bit cartoony. This kind of pulls that away. Hollywood is the thing that cartooned it. The original show is not a cartoon. It’s about real kids, so we’re trying to get back to the authentic,” Schaefer said.
The production, which opens Thursday, Nov. 10, at 7 p.m. in Knights Auditorium, started out smaller and has since grown into something bigger than Schaefer first imagined.
“This year I knew we had to do a musical, so we’re doing what I call the jeans and tee shirt show. The costumes for the original 1972 production, which is what we’re doing, were jeans and tee shirts. The pink ladies are in very simple 1950s outfits. We ended up choosing the show for that reason. The original cast was 17 people, and they all got a jeans and tee shirt outfit and a dance outfit. Second act, they go to the prom, kinda the high school homecoming, so they all get a second outfit,” Schaefer said.
“We have padded the cast. We had so many people show up to the auditions, that were very talented, that we added another 15 roughly actors to the padded cast. These are the other high schoolers in the story. So they’re in three or four scenes and the dance numbers and singing numbers. Well, that took us away from the jeans and tee shirt show,” Schaefer said.
Monetary factors were also considered.
“It’s not a cheap show rights-wise. It’s actually one of the more expensive shows to get the licensing, but the show itself, the production is not expensive to produce. We’re making a lot of our stock, a lot of scraps from previous shows and converting them.
Another factor is that male attendance in the theater industry is low.
“We’re struggling to get boys into the program, so I’m trying to find a show that is safe for the boys. Where they hear the word ‘Grease,’ and it’s cool to be on stage singing because we’re not alone [in low male participation]. This is trickling down from conversations on Broadway where the male attendance at theater is down. Male attendance at auditions is down. Male attendance period for the straight heterosexual male in theater is down, so I’m trying to pick shows that push not necessarily a masculine agenda but that push the safe zone for men to get involved,” Schaefer said.
The last reason is that Knights Auditorium will be under construction next year.
“We got a bond issue passed to get our repairs that are needed, which is brand [a] new fly gallery, all new lighting system, all new sound system, new curtains. The rest of the auditorium got its facelift five, seven years ago. This is way overdue. We’re gonna live out of the BlackBox next year, and because we knew we were going to be going to smaller shows next year, we picked a big one [this year],” Schaefer said.
Knights Auditorium had 742 seats, and Schaefer hopes that at least 700 will be full each night. The play runs Friday, Nov. 11, and closes Saturday, Nov. 12.
Lydia Urice – Editor in Chief
This will be Lydia Urice’s third year on ECHO staff. She made several contributions while taking journalism class her freshman year. She was Podcast Editor for her first year on staff, and Junior Editor her second year.