Friday, April 15, 2005
Seventh-Grade Play: Grease at the Carlisle School
One report from the seats in Corey Auditorium is simply this: that Grease, performed this past Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday at the Carlisle School, was a huge success for this year's seventh-grade class. But there's more to it than that. Grease was a huge success for the seventh grade, plus it was put together in only five and a half weeks. Due to a number of scheduling and academic reasons, the rehearsal schedule for the seventh-grade play was a full two weeks shorter than usual, translating to 14 fewer rehearsals, says director Megan Fitzharris, director of Grease, and a music teacher at the Carlisle School.
"I told them there would be no scripts [allowed on stage] after just two and a half weeks. I expected them to be flubbing up, but they didn't," says Fitzharris. "This is the most dedicated cast I've ever worked with."
The familiar story of Grease (with book, music and lyrics by Jim Jacobs and Warren Casey) takes place in 1959, at the beginning of the school year at fictional Rydell High. After a summer romance at the beach, wholesome Sandy (played by Emma Caroline Materne) and greaser Danny (Zander Ansara) unexpectedly find themselves at the same school. With the help (and occasional hindrance) of their friends the Pink Ladies and the Burger Palace Boys, the couple struggles to bridge their differences. Naturally the entire gang gets involved in the story, dancing and singing their way through such nostalgic scenes as a pajama party, the prom, the burger palace and a drive-in movie.
Although the basic elements of the story are the same, the version of Grease performed at the Carlisle School is called the "school version," a shortened, toned-down adaptation of the musical (and the John Travolta — Olivia Newton-John movie), created especially for middle school students. Many of the songs are recognizable favorites, such as "Summer Nights", "Greased Lightning," "Look at Me, I'm Sandra Dee" and "We Go Together," while others seem to be unique to this particular adaptation.
The cast of seventh graders did an admirable job with their parts. Materne showed the range of sweet Sandy (with a sweet singing voice to match), and the leather-clad, high-heeled version of her at the end. Ansara was superb as Danny, with a deep singing voice that was particularly impressive during the bluesy beginning of the tune "All Choked Up." The Pink Ladies in their satin jackets and the Burger Palace Boys in their leather jackets and slicked-back hair were fun to watch as well.
One of the highlights of the show was the "Greased Lightning" number when Kenickie (Justin Morgan) and his buddies extolled the virtues of his cherished car. Another highlight took place at the prom, when cast members assembled en masse to dance to "Born to Hand Jive." There were several stand-out dancers in the group, including Georgia Guttadauro as Cha-Cha DeGregorio. One crowd-pleasing moment occurred during the scene at the drive-in, when characters acting out the movie (Katie Mills as Sheila, Conor Walsh as the Hero, Andrew Burke as the Werewolf and Ryan Symonds as the Scientist), stepped off the "screen" and joined Danny in singing the song "Alone at a Drive-In Movie."
As always, the seventh-grade performers were backed up by an army of parents, fellow middle-school students, high-school students and teachers, who built the sets, moved props, chaperoned, made costumes, did publicity, sound, lighting, make-up and other jobs too numerous to mention. This year for the first time, instead of just two parent producers, there was a team of four: Annie Halvorsen, Paula von Kleydorff, Susan Mills and Stephanie Smith.
"They were incredibly organized, dividing up the jobs," says Fitzharris. "It has been seamless; just unbelievable."
"The [co-producers] have worked together before, for the Spaghetti Supper and other events, and they do a fabulous job," says parent Collette Cooke, who helped with front-of-house duties for the musical. "This is a great class, the kids are good and the parents are very involved," she added.
Fitzharris noted that at least ten high school students from Carlisle returned to help out with lighting (including CCHS senior Michael Johnson for his sixth consecutive year), sound, backstage crew, photos and other duties. Senior Joe Carpenito stepped in as assistant director, which was another first for the seventh-grade play.
"Joe directed five scenes by himself," says Fitzharris, adding that his assistance was one reason why they were able to complete the play in such a short time. "It was great. One of us could be blocking while the other was working on music."
Clearly, the seventh-grade class rendition of Grease was a resounding success, made even more impressive by the short rehearsal and prep time. At the first rehearsal, Fitzharris recalls telling the cast that they would have to work extra hard to create a successful show in the face of the time constraints. But, "I believe you can do this," she stressed.
"I've never known any show to get done in just five weeks," she stated shortly before the curtain opened for the show's first performance. "Be sure to mention how proud I am."
(pictures by Rik Pierce)
© 2005 The Carlisle Mosquito