‘Grease’ is the word at the USCB Center for the Arts.
By Margaret Evans, Editor
If you happened to be a 14-year-old girl when the movie Grease was released, chances are you’re still lugging it around in your cultural suitcase. I can’t speak for those who were older or younger at the time (1978), but for my friends and me, Grease hit the sweet spot.
For one thing, it was set in the 1950s. In the 1970s, we were all about the 1950s. Collectively obsessed. (Remember the Happy Days craze?)
And when we weren’t pining for the ‘50s, we were getting our disco on . . . and Grease had the king of disco himself, John Travolta, fresh off Saturday Night Fever. Our parents hadn’t let us see that movie; we’d absorbed it through osmosis and the ubiquitous, Top 40 stylings of the Bee Gees. But Grease? This one, they let us see! And see. And see again. Like Sandy and Danny, we were hopelessly devoted . . . and I, for one, never really got over it.
So it is with great anticipation that my inner 14-year-old awaits the Beaufort Theatre Company’s upcoming production of Grease at the USCB Center for the Arts. I can’t wait to sing along – hopefully just in my head, but I make no promises. I plan to dance in my seat during “Summer Nights’” and “Greased Lightnin’” and cry like a baby when Rizzo belts “There Are Worse Things I Could Do.” My chills are multiplyin’ just thinking about it.
Director Libby Ricardo says I’m right to be excited about this show.
“I personally find the play even more compelling than the movie,” she tells me, “primarily because it’s more reflexive about our nostalgia for that time period. In our production, we’re playing quite a bit with the idea of fantasy versus reality. The show centers around teenagers in the Chicago suburbs in 1959. In many ways, the students of Rydell High look and behave like adults, and yet, they fantasize about love, romance, friendship, cars and fame. They’re kids in a world that expects them to be adults.”
Libby is new to Beaufort, and our theatre community is very lucky to have her here. She’s been acting professionally since age 11, did her undergrad work at the NYU Tisch School of the Arts, trained at the Stella Adler studio, studied at the Bali Conservatory with Per Brahe and the Experimental Theatre Wing’s International Theatre Workshop in Amsterdam, and got an MFA in Performance from the University of Georgia.
“That’s where I met my husband George,” she says. “He was working on his PhD at the time.” George Pate is the new Assistant Professor of English in Drama and Theatre at USCB.
Libby is working with a multi-age cast – from teenagers to adults “of a certain age” – and she says it hasn’t been an issue at all.
“When I see the cast on stage, I don’t for a minute think about the age difference. They look like high school students to me. I think a majority of the credit goes to a cast that is having fun together – that, and our older cast members having hit the genetic jackpot. No one looks their age.”
Heading up the ensemble are Elaine Lake and Karl Wells as Sandy and Danny.
“Elaine Lake is a fantastic singer and actress,” says Libby Ricardo. “She is a staple in the community, and I understand why. Karl Wells is a great singer and completely adorable on stage; crush-worthy, even.”
Crush-worthy Karl says he hasn’t done any musical theatre since high school, when he performed in Mame and also did “some stellar improv in my guidance counselor and principal’s office; Emmy worthy, really.” He’s still not quite sure how he landed the coveted role of Danny Zuko.
“Although I’ve got to be honest and say that the ‘Danny’ role was on my radar since the moment I heard about Grease coming to USCB, I’d actually elected not to audition due to some scheduling issues. Bonnie hunted me down, drugged me, and next thing I knew I was shooting my collar, singing Summer Nights and she told me I had the role. I’m still not quite sure what happened.” (‘Bonnie’ is Bonnie Hargrove, executive director of the USCB Center for the Arts; she worked with Karl last spring in the BTC production of “A Piece of My Heart” and knew what he could do.)
Elaine Lake is best known locally as one of the three singing Sweetgrass Angels. They perform regularly at restaurants, bars and entertainment venues throughout the Lowcountry and have a large and loyal following. She acknowledges that “Sandy” has long been a dream role of hers.
Elaine is also realizing another dream with this production: working on stage with her husband Jason again – he plays Vince Fontaine – after a lengthy hiatus. For a very long time, Beaufort theatre folk knew Elaine and Jason Lake as the crackerjack team who ran lights and sound from the back of the house. Then Elaine – who hadn’t been on stage in almost two decades – made her Beaufort debut in Honky Tonk Angels and blew the audience away. Her husband pushed her, and now she’s pulling him.
“Grease will be the 5th show and 3rd musical that Jason and I have performed on stage together,” Elaine tells me. “He spent 18 years trying to get me out from behind the scenes and back on stage again and I am so happy that he is finally joining me! Jason is so talented in so many ways (he also designed the set), and I love working with him on and off the stage. Who wouldn’t want to go to work with their best friend every day? I feel so blessed to be able to do just that.”
Elaine says she’s having a ball with this production, and that the audience will, too. She says we should expect to “walk in with a smile and to walk out with an even bigger smile. Oh! And bring tissues. They’ll be needed for the heartstring tugging as well as the side splitting laughter!”
Libby Ricardo tells me a lot of that laughter will be generated by James Duffy and Corrie Frohnapfel in the roles of Kenickie and Rizzo. “They both are these outstanding personalities, funny and witty, and so I think the inherent humor of the show must have come naturally to them,” Libby says. “It would be easy to rest on those laurels, and yet, both have dug deeper and created these incredibly nuanced, flawed, likable, heart-breaking teenagers. I don’t know if I will ever think of these characters the same way again.”
James Duffy is an English instructor at USCB, and though he hasn’t done any musical theatre since college, he says, “My classes are a lot like musical theater; there’s some drama, some comedy . . . I periodically I break into song. My first day of teaching was certainly acting, as I had no idea what I was doing.”
Like every Greaser I interviewed, Duffy can’t say enough about his cast mates, director and crew. “I love working with these people; the cast really gets along well for the spread of ages we have on stage. Our director, Libby, joined us midstream, and hit the ground running – she’s really getting the best work out of us. She should probably be charging us for the lessons.”
And, of course, it’s a musical. So there’s dancing.
“Val, our choreographer, has the patience of Job,” says James Duffy. “I played rugby for 15 years, where I was just expected to push people around, not run fast or be fancy – that’s pretty well reflected in my dancing . . . which is like a series of controlled collisions with the earth. I’ve lost 30 pounds since we started rehearsals, going to yoga and Zumba classes to help with flexibility, balance, and rhythm, but I am definitely the weak link in our cast. I don’t believe that I am in any danger of hurting anyone else in the dance numbers, but my health and safety may be in peril. I think I’m in danger of being replaced by a dancing bear in a leather jacket.”
Corrie Frohnapfel is also new to musical theatre. “However,” she says, “as a drill instructor I would sing cadence all day long, and I was acting, so I suppose that may have given me some experience.”
Corrie may be the only former Marine Corps Drill Instructor ever to play Betty Rizzo in Grease, but it doesn’t strike me as far-fetched casting for this tough-yet-tender role. When asked what she loves most about Rizzo, Corrie says it’s hard to pick one thing. “I love her wit and sharp comebacks. I love that she seems to be very comfortable in her skin and isn’t afraid to flaunt it. I suppose though, mostly, I love that she has an underlying vulnerability that she lets no one else see.”
In the movie, Rizzo reveals that vulnerability during the unforgettable number “There Are Worse Things I Could Do.” Corrie plans to make her version a showstopper, too. “It’s a really hard song to sing (emotionally) because it’s just me and the audience. But, I want them to feel every emotion I am putting into the song.”
Corrie is currently a substitute teacher with the Beaufort County School District. “You know, Mrs. Lynch by day, Rizzo by night!” she laughs.
And speaking of Mrs. Lynch . . . Elaine Lake’s Sweetgrass sister Velma Polk has the plum role of the Rydell High principal, which makes her the cast’s official matriarch. She tells me she’s loving every minute of it.
“It’s great fun to boss those kids around! I really love the cast; I laugh out loud all the time . . . can’t help it. I tell you, these kids are awesome! This is going to be a great show.”
How could it be anything but? After all, it’s Grease.
Cast & Crew: Elaine Lake (‘Sandy’), Karl Wells (‘Danny’), James Duffy (‘Kenickie’), Frohnapel (‘Rizzo’), Christian Osborne and Alex Long (‘Doody’ & ‘Sonny’), Anna Schaffer and Andrew Hillis (‘Jan’ & ‘Roger’), Lynleigh McLain and Angy Chancay (‘Marty’ & ‘Frenchy’); Trissy Long and Noah Westman-Bart (‘Patty’ & ‘Eugene’), Velma Polk (‘Mrs. Lynch’), Daniel Bittick (‘Johnny Casino’), Jason Lake (‘Vince Fontaine,’ Set Design, Lights & Sound). Libby Ricardo (Director), Penney Smith (Musical Director), Valerie Hobbs (Choreographer); Brad Ballington (‘Teen Angel,’ Makeup & Hair); Pat Willcox (Costume Design)
Grease opens September 5th at 7:30pm at the USCB Center for the Arts, with shows running September 6th & 13th at 7:30 pm and September 7th & 14th at 3:00 pm. Audience members are encouraged to compete in the costume contest on opening night, Friday, September 5th at 7:00 pm. For more information call 521-4145 or visit www.uscbcenterforthearts.com