By Marion Filler
Was life really more fun in 1959?
Grease premiered on Broadway in 1971, and became a blockbuster movie seven years later starring Olivia Newton-John as Sandy and John Travolta as Danny.
The story celebrates an era. The teens of fictional Rydell High offer an escape to innocence and fun for those who never experienced it, and a glorified version of the past for those who did.
It’s the perfect antidote to today’s headlines, according to Director Cathy Roy, who last directed this show in 2000.
“We needed something that would take people’s mind off of things and entertain them by bringing them back to that innocent time of the 1950s,” said Roy, whose prior MPAC productions have toggled from lighter fare such as Hairspray and Mary Poppins to musicals with a “really strong message,” like Les Misérables and West Side Story.
More than 200 aspiring young actors, singers, and dancers–many from MPAC’s Performing Arts School–auditioned for 54 roles in Grease, which runs from May 31-June 2, 2019.
Showtimes are 7:30 pm on Friday and Saturday, with 2 pm matinees on Saturday and Sunday. Tickets are $20-$30.
Roy is confident Brianna Ascione and Christian Leadley can stake their own claims on the iconic roles of Sandy and Danny.
Ascione, a fine arts major at Marymount Manhattan College, played Anybodys in West Side Story at MPAC. She attended the Morris County School of Technology.
Leadley is one of three Actors’ Equity members in the cast. The Rochester, NY, native holds a degree in musical theater from Syracuse University and is co-founder of The Ume Group, a theater company on New York’s Upper West Side.
“We use the songs from the movie, but I told the kids that I want the audience to feel like they never heard this story before. Let them see likeable characters, tell a story and play it ‘real,'” Roy said.
Cast members, who range from 14 to college age, have been rehearsing since the end of March. Earlier this week they were fine-tuning acrobatic dance numbers–and their driving skills.
A star of the show is “Greased Lightnin,” a 1954 Nash Metropolitan that Roy found in Atlantic City.
Now electrified, the jalopy was brought to Morristown by tractor trailer a few days before the Memorial Day weekend. It actually is driven onstage and incorporated into a song-and-dance number bearing its name.
The set was delivered in the same way, from a company on Long Island, and the crew worked rapidly to assemble and coordinate it with the lighting, one of many critical elements in this $100,000 production.
You won’t see Charles Santoro’s seven-piece orchestra in the pit, but it too is an integral part of the show. Rollicking tunes start with a bang and never quit.
Another star you won’t see is Barbara Canace, the costume designer.
Each actor requires four- to five wardrobe changes. Assisted by Lorry Ripley and four helpers, Canace searched vintage clothing shops, Goodwill, and professional costume emporiums such as Scaramouche in Chester and Playtime Costumes in Freehold, as well as MPAC’s own wardrobe department.
Canace has been in the business for a decade, and noted that authentic clothes from the 1950s are a difficult fit for 21st century women.
“Today’s young women have broader rib cages because they are much more athletic,” Canace said. “They work at the waist, but you can’t zip it up.”
Kevin Coughlin contributed to this report.
The Mayo Performing Arts Center presents Grease, its spring musical, for four performances from May 31-June 2, 2019. Showtimes are 7:30 pm on Friday and Saturday, with 2 pm matinees on Saturday and Sunday. Tickets are $20-$30. At 100 South St., 973-539-8008.