A forbidden romance, a hand jive competition and… werewolves? All of the above and more were what Visiting Assistant Professor Kevin Gray and his cast had in store for the audience during the Nov. 11 preview of Grease. The show, which opened Nov. 12 at Rollins’ Annie Russell Theatre, stars Stephanie Leone ’12 and Brian Hatch ’12, playing the iconic roles of Sandy and Danny. When asked how he tackled the role and made Danny his own, Hatch responded, “I thought very little about John Travolta’s interpretation of the character because his performance is definitive and so well-known that it’s rather daunting to have in the back of my mind. My performance is in no way a reaction to his interpretation of the character. I worked diligently to find the commonalities between Danny and myself as opposed to John Travolta and myself.” Gray commented on the production style by saying, “On the one hand, we knew going in that the show had an established record of success. And on the other, we knew because of this, the show could be explored freely with the knowledge that we could always return to what had been proven effective in the past.”
While Gray and the actors remained true to the storyline and to the script, there were definitely noticeable differences in the interpretations of some of the characters. Alexis Riley ’13, who plays Miss Lynch, strayed from the more traditional strict teacher role and turned her character into a source of consistent comedic relief. Riley explained that after she was cast in her role, she made a point to not watch the movie so that she could make Miss Lynch her own. “You just have to throw the movie out of your brain,” she explained. “I just asked myself ‘what could this person be?’” Chelsea Swearingen ’12 shared the same sentiments as Riley in regard to her interpretation of her character, Rizzo. She said that she really had to examine her character because it was “hard to separate from Stockard Channing’s interpretation.”
It seemed to be unanimous amongst the actors and Gray that their stage production of Grease had to be as distinct from the original version as possible. “He didn’t want the movie,” Riley responded when asked about Gray’s vision for the show. She also noted that every unique aspect of the play was the product of extensive personal attention and interpretation. “I think it is important to allow space for everyone’s creative contribution, so we are always tinkering and making changes that we felt improved and refined our storytelling,” Gray confirmed.
The three hours of rehearsal that the actors devoted to the production each night shined through during the preview, which featured the entire cast and crew in their 1950s best. Gray and the rest of the crew are thrilled with how the show turned out. “I and my team are ver y pleased with our cast and our production, and we are really enjoying the journey together,” he said. The show will continue its run until Nov. 20, so everyone should be sure to get tickets and head over to the Annie Russell Theatre to rock out with Rydell High.