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'Grease!' is the word for summer nights at the theater

The cast of “Grease!” sings “You’re the One that I Want.” Sarah Schmidt. (click for larger version)
July 01, 2009
MEREDITH — Meredith returns to an era of poodle skirts, bobby socks, and brylcreem as the Summer Theater in Meredith Village turns Inter-Lakes High School into Rydell High for its production of "Grease!"

Greasers go for good girls, and teenagers make up and break up in the familiar musical that recalls the 1950s. The musical, among others in the summer lineup, was chosen for its upbeat attitude and fun songs, according to Nancy Barry, producing director of the Summer Theatre.

"Last year, we surveyed the audiences that came to our first season," said Barry. "People wanted upbeat, fun musicals. It's all about the happy ending - it was why "Buddy Holly" was so popular, when he came back for the big finale."

The cast and crew of the Summer Theater came to Meredith from across America. College students and graduates auditioned through the New England Theatre Conference and the New Hampshire Professional Theatre Association for parts in summer stock theater. The cast of "Grease!" traveled from places as close as Boston and New York, and as far away as Texas, California, and Georgia. A few of the more experienced actors had worked with Barry before - some on Broadway.

For many of the younger castmates, the Summer Theatre is a way to gain experience. All are potentials for Broadway, Barry said, though only one or two will make it.

"I'm living in New York right now, auditioning and performing," said Jared Troilo, 23, who plays Johnny Casino. "I'm working steadily, and I'm very lucky. I worked here last year."

The youngest castmates in "Grease!" are somewhat more local. The Junior Apprentice Company, 13 local teenagers with an interest in the theater, joined the Summer Theatre to help out with productions, helping with scene changes, acting smaller roles in the musical.

Many of the Junior Apprentice Company students, Barry said, got a boost from performing in "Seussical, Jr." earlier this year. She attributed it to a boost in maturity from theater experience under teacher Kathleen Hill.

"These kids have grown so much from that," said Barry. "They've learned so much from her (Hill). The kids are so prepared and confident."

Creating a 1950s setting in a modern theater is no easy task. Barry said that she'd been shopping for the musical for at least a year, combing local thrift shops for props, poodle skirts, and leather jackets to outfit the cast and the set. She also enlisted the help of Meredith local graduate Tristan Abbot, the props manager for the Summer Theatre.

"I do a lot of research online," said Abbot of her prop gathering techniques. "Nancy's done a lot, and I talk to people. You'd be surprised what people have in their basements and attics."

As a result of their actions, the stage is covered with a facsimile of a gym floor, and Danny Zuko takes Sandy Olsson out to the drive-in movies in a shiny car. With some work, the six-piece live band playing for the musical performs just to the back of the stage - not at its front.

Kevin Zak, as the T-Bird, Roger, will also perform in a shiny leather jacket thanks to Barry and Abbot's efforts at combing through thrift shops. His jacket, however, is not the article of clothing his character is remembered for.

"He (Roger) is the anything-for-a-laugh guy - he likes to moon people," said Zak. "There's no actual mooning, though."

"Grease!" hit the stage earlier this week, and will play tonight at 8 p.m. The musical will run through July 12, with performances every day but Mondays. For more information, visit www.interlakestheater.com.

Martin Lord Osman
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