Rising Stars turn out a squeaky wheel of a production

By MaryBeth Gronek

Does Rydell High need a makeover? The Rising Stars Theater Company (TRSTC) seems to think so—they have offered a new take on the blockbuster and Broadway hit Grease. But the success of such makeovers is a matter of opinion, especially if Frenchy is the beautician. This new take may seem innovative and unconventional to some, but it may leave others a bit unsatisfied.

There are many glaring changes to the score, including alterations and omissions to the order of the songs. The infamous “Look at me, I’m Sandra Dee” does not take place at the pajama party, but is instead performed three scenes later. The happy-go-lucky “We Go Together” tune is performed twice, at the end of both acts. This song finds its meaning in the end of the play, so it seems completely out of place in the middle of the performance. Sandy’s famous ballad, “Hopelessly Devoted to You,” is omitted altogether. What would Olivia Newton John say about this? Even more alarming, Sandy is not in the high school dance scene, and the Scorpion posse does not appear once throughout the entire performance.

Some of the less unsettling changes are found in costume. Although there are plenty of poodle skirts to go around and the T-birds’ and Pink Ladies’ jackets aren’t lacking, the traditional ’50s fashion isn’t all that hits the stage in this performance. During the high school dance, Rizzo wears a red dress that looks like it was purchased at Forever 21. Modern fashions and styles show up fairly often, especially among the ensemble. These changes are noticeable and sometimes distracting, especially when one cast member wears skinny jeans.

As far as the actual performance goes, it’s a bit shaky at parts, but overall, it ‘s well done. Because of the placement of the microphones, the actors aren’t always audible on certain parts of the stage. At times, the actors would belt out the lyrics only to find that the microphone had suddenly cut out. The technical problems improved somewhat by the second act, which was enough to up the cast’s vocal confidence. From there, the performance got progressively better.

“Beauty School Drop Out” is the best scene by far, probably because the costumes, choreography, and singing match the original movie version. Although the coy Sandy (Melanie Allgood) and the tight leather–wearing, hip-shaking Danny (Doug Matson) give solid performances, the real stars of the show are found in supporting roles. Miguel Long (Roger) and Michelle Sheehan (Jan) give stellar vocal performances, and Carolyn Ewald (Marty) and Megan Gilbert (Frenchy) seem to be the most professional among the cast.

The production is perhaps a reflection of the unconventional character of TRSTC. The company was founded in 1979 as a coeducational division of the Boy Scouts of America. Over the years, TRSTC has put on 34 musicals in various theatrical facilities: The Stahl Family Theatre, where Grease is performed, is attached to Saint Patrick High School. This community theater company is strictly self-financed, raising all funds for the production including costumes and set design. The pioneering and unorthodox approach that has shaped the organization over the years can be found, as expected, in this particular performance as well. Judy Sheehan is not only the director of the show, but also the costume designer. There is also a live rock band that accompanies the entire cast. The band is Waycool—no really, that’s their name.

If you find it nearly impossible to picture anyone but John Travolta as Danny Zuko, or if you think the absence of Dennis Stewart, the Scorpion leader Craterface, is as downright disturbing as his endlessly greasy hair, then you might want to pass on this performance. But if massive amounts of pelvic thrusts and poodle skirts will satisfy your Grease craving, no amount of preppy Patty Simcoxes should keep you from seeing TRSTC’s production of Grease.