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Grease at Old Opera House

May 06, 2004|by ANDREA ROWLAND

andrear@herald-mail.com

CHARLES TOWN, W.Va. - "Grease" is the word at the Old Opera House in Charles Town, where a talented cast and crew are preparing to stage the popular musical set in the 1950s.

"Grease - The Musical" opens Friday, May 7, and runs through Sunday, May 16, at the historic North George Street theater. The musical's plot revolves primarily around the attraction between greaser Danny Zuko and virtuous Sandy Dumbrowski, who unexpectedly meet again at Rydell High School in the fall after a summer fling at the beach. A hit-laden musical score - including "Summer Nights," "Greased Lightning," "Beauty School Dropout," "Born to Hand Jive" and "All Choked Up" - punctuates a story line that addresses topics ranging from friendship and reputation to sex and teen pregnancy.

"There's a lot of energy. The show just keeps rolling because every scene leads into a musical number," said director Alan Hupke, a Berryville, Va., resident who recently portrayed Ben Silverman in the Old Opera House production of "The Sunshine Boys." "It's almost like a concert."

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The "Grease" orchestra will feature veteran Charles Town-based band Detene - including Bing Crosby on drums, Greg Biddle on sax, Kevin Sowder on guitar, Charles Wall on keyboards and bass, and Rico Massimino on keyboards - hammering out rock 'n' roll music from the original score by Jim Jacobs and Warren Casey. Detene, members of which have been jamming together for two decades, also provided the music for the show when it was last staged at the Old Opera House 10 years ago.

"There's no such thing as autopilot in live shows, but we're going to have a lot more fun with it this time," Crosby said. "This music will appeal to a whole generation of people."

Even those audience members who weren't around when bobby socks and Brylcreem were all the rage are likely to know much of the score due to the popularity of the 1978 film version of "Grease" that starred John Travolta and Olivia Newton John.

But don't count on a stage version of the movie. Though similiar, the theatrical production follows the original score and more risqu original script. There won't be, for example, a rendition of "You're the One that I Want" - the finale song written just for the film. And, for the local production, the racy original script has been toned down to "tastefully crude," Hupke said.

"You can do a lot of things with suggestion," he said.

The director's biggest challenge was educating the young cast about '50s culture and mannerisms, including the more physical interaction among male friends, he said.

"They didn't know who Fabian was," Hupke said. "They didn't know there were no high-5s in the '50s."

What they lacked in knowledge of '50s pop culture, however, the cast made up for in skill. Hupke praised the versatile actors and experienced technical staff - including renowned local artist John Schuhart as scenic artist, Massimino as musical director, three choreographers and two dance captains.

"The cast is truly amazing," Hupke said. "I do not think I could have ever hoped for a better mix of talented individuals than the ones we have. When you see this talented group, you almost automatically know what character they portray. ... The true magic of this show, and why it has been so successful over the years, is that each and every audience member can relate to one or more of the characters on a personal level. It is an amazingly fun show that touches people in a very special way, and our cast absolutely does that."

With her flipped-out blonde hair and pearls, Amy White perfectly fits the persona of Sandy Dumbrowski. And the petite actress boasts a big voice. A 16-year-old junior at Martinsburg High School with an impressive musical and theatrical resume - including roles in "Cinderella," "Annie" and "Once Upon a Mattress," White hopes to pursue a career on Broadway or in opera, she said.

Amy Easton plays Sandy's tough-chick counterpart, Betty Rizzo. It's a role the 22-year-old actress and lifelong "Grease" fan - whose local theatrical credits include "Big" and "Sunday in the Park" - has always wanted to play, she said.

"I, like, memorized the entire script when I was four," said Easton, who lives in Walkersville, Md. "I've always wanted to do this show."

She's especially fond of playing Rizzo, a sarcastic character "with a giant chip on her shoulder," in a production that Easton labeled "campier" than the movie version. Her real-life boyfriend, Matt Baughman of Germantown, Md., portrays Rizzo's love interest, Kenickie. The chemistry between the actors translates into a believable pairing on the stage, Baughman said.

A senior mass communications major at Towson (Md.) University, Baughman is a member of the Landless Theatre Company in Washington, D.C., and has performed at Way Off Broadway theater in Frederick, Md. "Grease" marks his first performance at the Old Opera House.

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