by Bruce Strand, Arts editor
When ERHS actors took on the challenge of bringing “Grease” to life for its spring musical, their director Michelle Brooks told them “Go big or go home,” would be the motto. She might have added “and don’t go home until everyone’s had fun,” because gobs of fun is what the players and their audience had at opening night Friday.
When “Grease” is done well it’s hard not to have a good time what with all the peppy 50’s music, massive dance scenes, the girls’ gaily-colored poodle skirts and sweaters and big hair, the boys’ oh-so-cool black leather jackets and jeans and greasy duck-tails, and lots of little romances popping up like dandelions.
The 30-member cast has clearly gone the extra mile to make the scenes as vibrant and fun as they can. Brooks commented that whenever the production team suggest a scene or dance move could be simplified, the response was, “No, it will look better to master it; we can master it.”
The cast is headed by senior Alex Doebler as Danny and sophomore Abby Eilertson as Sandy. Also in familiar roles are junior Ali Brady as Frenchy, Aggie Menke as Marty, a very athletic junior Bill Gleason (he does a couple of back flips!) as Kenicke, and senior Kelsey Rausch in her 24th play, as Sandy’s sensuous and aggressive rival Rizzo.
Brady, in her fifth musical and always a scene-stealer, said “Grease” wasn’t necessarily a bigger challenge than previous productions but was delightfully different “with the big hair and these clothes,” adding that she saw “Grease” several years ago and thought the Frenchy character was “adorable” and she’s elated to have the chance to play her.
Eilertson got the big role in just her second year, with only a small part in the winter one-act play previously. She’s already got the bug, big-time. “This is what I want to to — I’m planning to go to California and pursue a singing and acting career.” She got a good start in transforming from goody-goody poodle-skirted Sandy, too shy to get what she wants, into a sultry, teased-hair and leather-pants Sandy for the last scene who claims her guy singing the duet “You’re the One that I Want.” (Asked which version she resembles more, she said definitely the poodle-skirt Sandy).
Eilertson had a head start on the dancing requirement for “Grease” as she’s been dancing for 10 of her 15 years, with a studio and with Elk River Dance Team (which she left this year in favor of theatre). Asked if she learned a lot about the 50’s in the last two months, she nodded, “They dressed pretty weird, but fun, too.” She said she’s seen “Grease” the movie a few times and always wanted to play Sandy.
Doebler burst unto the ERHS theatre scene as a senior, having just a couple minor roles previously, and showed considerable range as he played the cranky old Potter with aplomb in “It’s a Wonderful Life” last fall and now the plumb role of teen heart-throb Danny with both vitality and vulnerability. As Danny he has show glimpses of how smitten by Sandy he is, while always pretending he isn’t, to look cool and aloof to his duck-tailed cronies.
Asked if any grandparents or great-uncles who came of age in the 50’s helped him out, he chucked, “Oh, yes. My grandpa has been there every day.” As for handling the many dance numbers, he said he had no formal dance background but loves to dance on his own. Choreographer Alyssa Sha praised him as a “quick learner.”
Sha, the ERHS dance team coach who’s only a few years older than the cast, had the task of organizing several big dance numbers. She said the kids picked up the moves pretty well. The biggest challenge was the sets — “staying away from the benches and tables and chairs” — which she doesn’t have to deal with with ERDT dancers on the gym floor.
“Grease” is a cheery night out, and there’s four more showings including tonight (Saturday) at 7 p.m. Next weekend’s performances will be Friday at 7 p.m. and Saturday at 2 and 7 p.m.
Other cast members are Grace Heyne (Jan), Josh Vogel (Doody), Brady Murphy (Sonny), James Bounds (Roger), Noah Gilbertson (Teen Angel, and Vince Fontaine), Morgan Shryock (Cha-Cha DeGregario), Lucas Laniel (Eugene), Beth Brady (Miss Lynch) and Emmy Crane (Patty), along with Amy Honek, Kelsey Wakeman, Brittany Devalk, and Emily Meyer as Pink Ladies.
The Ensemble players are Emily Kliewer, Hope Martindale, Sami Turcotte, Alexis Ayers, Emily Motin, Molly Perry, Elise Williams, Alex Thorsen, Marie Miller, Hannah Gandrud, and Tony Cloud.
In the orchestra are Adam Harbaneh, Rosemary Hampton, Andrew Larson, Jordan Plachecki, John Rosner, Mike Bubois, and Dale Miller.