UCHS drama students rehearse for their upcoming production of “Grease: School Version.” (Contributed photo)

By Richard Rourk

The Unicoi County High School drama department will bring a one-of-a-kind production of “Grease: School Version” to the stage beginning May 2.

According to UCHS drama department teacher Lori Ann Wright, the production takes the audience back to 1959 when Rydell High School’s senior class is ready to rock the stage. The too-cool for school “Burger Palace Boys” and the incomparable “Pink Ladies” are back at Rydell for one more year (and one more dance contest). 

The school version of “Grease” is an abridged version of the popular story with content suitable for families and younger audiences. The musical focuses on the romance between street-smart Danny Zuko and the new girl, sweet Sandy Dumbrowski. Danny and Sandy had a beach romance over the summer, but now they are back at school where peer-pressure and cliques make their lives a little difficult.

The whole gang sings and dances around Danny and Sandy’s romance, performing favorite songs as “Greased Lightnin’,” “We Go Together” and “Summer Nights.”

“It was exciting to see the band and drama students working together on this production,” UCHS band director Evangeline Hurter said. “It is a wonderful chance for the students to see  similarities between the two different areas of performing arts.”

Wright acknowledged that the crew has been hard at work.

“It has been a busy few months on the UCHS stage as the cast and crew of ‘Grease: School Version’ rehearsed scene after scene to create the production running May 2 through May 4,” Wright said. “Time in rehearsal is the largest part of the production process and the most important.”

Despite the long hours, the cast has enjoyed the experience.

“We’ve worked countless hours for this show, but none of it feels like work, because we love each other and the show so much,” UCHS junior Kate Hollenbeck, who plays Frenchy and serves as the show’s dance choreographer, said.

According to Wright, “Grease: School Version” has been a difficult but rewarding project.

“After the show is selected, licensed, and auditions are over, the real work starts – and that work is done in rehearsals,” Wright said. “From doing the initial table read of the script, to blocking rehearsals where actors learn how to move throughout a scene, to working on line delivery and characterization, to memorizing and practicing the dances, songs and script, the time spent in rehearsal is what makes a show ready for opening night.”

Wright said that her department was not afraid to tackle such an enormous production. 

“A larger production, such as a musical like this one, requires specialized practices with additional help from a choreographer or a music director,” Wright said. “Vocalists, dancers and musicians have separate rehearsals added to their already busy schedules.”

According to Wright, the students made many sacrifices to present this production.

“Our students spend at least three days a week including every Saturday morning working on the show,” Wright said. “This is in addition to the class work and class productions they create such as the recently performed ‘And Then They Came for Me’ and the upcoming Beginning Theatre Arts I One-Act Night and ‘Charlotte’s Web’ also coming to the UCHS stage later in May.”

According to Wright, the students performing “Grease: School Version” are at a stage in rehearsals where the performances are starting to really come together.

“We are now entering the special part of the rehearsal period when all the theatrical elements such as set, props, tech, makeup, costumes and the orchestra are brought together with the cast and crew to do final run-throughs of the show,” Wright said. “The final rehearsal combines every element of a great show and runs just like the first performance.”

The students connect with the story of “Grease: School Version.”

“My favorite scene is where all of the Pink Ladies and Burger Palace Boys are in a circle singing,” UCHS senior Katelyn Reece, who plays Marty, said. “It’s such a surreal moment of these seniors experiencing their moments in high school just like it’s my last few moments in high school.”

Wright said that the UCHS drama department is thankful for all the support that they have received.

“The UCHS ‘Grease’ cast and crew would like to give a special thank you to the following organizations for their support of this production: Erwin Outdoor Supply, H&H Auto Sales Unicoi, LLC, Blountville Auto Salvage, and Omar Canvas and Awning,” Wright said. “The students would also like to thank the administration, faculty and staff of UCHS and Mr. (John) English and the Unicoi County Board of Education for supporting the performing arts in our schools.”

Tickets for the show are on sale now at the UCHS main office and at Erwin Outdoor Supply for advance purchase or can be bought 30 minutes before each performance. Tickets are $8 for adults, $5 for students and $3 for children under 12. 

“Grease: School Version” is presented by special arrangement with Samuel French, Inc. “Grease: School Version” book, music and lyrics by Jim Jacobs and Warren Casey.

“The students have worked so hard and I am extremely proud of the show they have created, and I love it when students can work together and bring out their very best on the stage,” Wright said. “This is a truly entertaining show and the audience will enjoy the antics of the characters on the stage, and it will be a good time for the audience, for sure.”