Arts and Entertainment

It’s still ‘the word’; Friday Harbor High School’s drama group presents ‘Grease’ at San Juan Community Theatre

‘Grease’ is only the second musical ever presented by the Friday Harbor High School Drama Group. It features a cast of between 60 and 64 students. It opens Jan. 8 in the San Juan Community Theatre. Top row from left, Cole DuCote, Liz Bateman, Tucker Anderson, Desi Whalen, Miles Cobos. Second row from left: Joyce King, Tristan Wood, Oliver Strasser, Parks Barnard, Will Tranfo, Caitlin McCauley. Bottom from left, Brynn Lean, Sam Asher.                            - Ann Templeton Monin
‘Grease’ is only the second musical ever presented by the Friday Harbor High School Drama Group. It features a cast of between 60 and 64 students. It opens Jan. 8 in the San Juan Community Theatre. Top row from left, Cole DuCote, Liz Bateman, Tucker Anderson, Desi Whalen, Miles Cobos. Second row from left: Joyce King, Tristan Wood, Oliver Strasser, Parks Barnard, Will Tranfo, Caitlin McCauley. Bottom from left, Brynn Lean, Sam Asher.
— image credit: Ann Templeton Monin

Rock into the new year with the hit Broadway show, “Grease,” performed by the Friday Harbor High School Drama Group, Jan. 8-11 at the San Juan Community Theatre.

This smash-hit musical — the eighth longest-running Broadway show — is the second high school musical ever performed by the drama group.

“Grease” is about the youth culture of the 1950s and rock ‘n’ roll’s influence on societal changes at that time; famous songs in the production include “Summer Nights,” Greased Lightning” and “You’re the One that I Want.”

“There are between 60 to 64 students performing in ‘Grease,’ which is close to one fourth of the entire school,” said Fred Yockers, drama director.

For several months, the cast has been memorizing lines and songs, and learning dance steps. Although the plot is simple, magic emerges among the dancing and songs performed by the students.

Rock ’n’ roll, black leather jackets and jeans, poodle skirts and bobby socks, beehive hairdos, diners and drive-ins are sure to bring back memories for island Baby Boomers.

“The kids are being supported by an unbelievable number of parents and community members,” Yockers said. There are about 15 adults on the coaching staff and at least 75 people backstage every night of the performance.

A live student rock band, “The Gamblers,” includes three adult community members: Wayne Eshelman, Dan Gillespie and Tyler Schubert.

“It’s a chance for people to share what they have as a gift to the community,” said Cole DuCote, 17, who plays Kenickie, a member of the T-Birds.

Cole said acting in “Grease” is as much fun as the annual San Juan County Fair. “It would be a sad world if there was no drama. I’m going to remember this play for the rest of my life.”

Tucker Anderson, 18, plays the lead role of Danny Zuko, a T-Bird who falls in love with a girl named Sandy Dumbrowski over summer break.

Desi Whalen, 15, plays Sandy, a shy and sweet senior who is new to town.

“We can actually be ourselves in this play because we are portraying high school students,” Desi said.

She hopes students will learn to become more accepting and appreciative of others after watching “Grease.” The cliques in the play resemble cliques among teen-agers in today’s high schools. But in the play, the differences are celebrated in song and dance.

The story: It’s summer break and Sandy and her family move to town; come fall, she’ll be a new student at Rydell High School. Danny is a greaser with a tough exterior who struggles to maintain his cool identity, as well as his love for Sandy. It’s a story of boy-meets-girl from the other side of the tracks, intertwined with cruising, pranks, prom and hanging out with friends at diners and drive-ins.

For the cast, friendships were born in the midst of memorizing lines, songs and dance steps.

“We all have different backgrounds, but the play brought us together to experience something of momentous proportion,” Tucker said.

“Drama definitely gives students a comfortable place to express themselves. It brought sides out of people that (teen-agers) would have never cared to show. We have good moments and bad moments but we all look out for each other and come together to support one another when cast members are going through difficult times.”

Senior Alaina Schultz first approached Yockers last spring with the idea of producing “Grease.” She plays Marty, a member of the Pink Ladies.

Yockers was reluctant at first because of the increased demands of performing a musical, including acting, music, dancing and singing.

Yockers said it takes four times the effort to direct a musical than a play. However, the enthusiasm among the students convinced him to reconsider and, so, “Grease” was born on San Juan Island.

“It’s the best distilled version of the ’50s era in any movie or play performance,” Yockers said. His highlights include discovering his students’ talent, and assembling a talented staff of coaches and volunteers.

The staff includes choreographers, costume and hair designers, make-up artist, music director, set builders and vocal coach.

Lisa Duke and Melissa Mortensen are the choreographers, Kevin Porter is musical director and Jill Urbach is vocal coach.

“Students learn they can do anything they put their minds to,” Yockers said.

Cast members learned they could dance and sing. And students were shocked to learn of their fellow classmates’ abilities.

“I was surprised to see how many people know how to sing,” Desi said.

Tristan Wood, who portrays Doody, a T-Bird, gained more courage and self-confidence through singing.

“I was completely blown away by Tristan’s voice,” Tucker said.

Senior Joyce King, 17, plays Betty Rizzo, leader of the Pink Ladies. “It’s what I do. I’ve been singing and dancing as long as I can remember,” she said.

Joyce grew up in a musical household and performed for the Peninsula Dance Theatre in Bremerton.

“It takes tremendous amount of courage and confidence to perform in front of an audience,” Yockers said. The lessons learned during the long hours of rehearsal are immense: Communication, discipline, memorization, teamwork.

The payoff: Yockers entered his cast into the 5th Avenue High School Musical Theatre Awards. Professional evaluators will judge their performance in 20 categories.

“We are going to knock their socks off,” Yockers said.

The touring Broadway performance of “Grease” at the 5th Avenue Theatre is May 12-30. It stars “American Idol” winner Taylor Hicks.

The dates of the Friday Harbor High School Drama Group’s production: Jan. 8, 7:30 p.m.; Jan. 9, 7:30 p.m.; Jan. 10, 7:30 p.m.; Jan. 11, 2 p.m.

Come dressed in a 1950s outfit on Jan. 9 for a chance to win a prize.

Tickets are $17 for adults and $8 for children. A $5 student RUSH is available one hour before each performance.

“Grease” is sponsored by Best Western Friday Harbor Suites. The musical is expected sell out at all four performances, so islanders are encouraged to purchase their tickets early.

Visit the box office at San Juan Community Theatre, call 378-3210 or visit www.sjctheatre.org.CLICK HERE.

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