Summer stock troupe works hard to present classic
Teenagers are busy dancing and singing across the stage of Prescott Center for the Arts these days, rehearsing for their production of "Grease," the iconic American musical film of the 1970s that tells the story of two lovers in a 1950s high school.
This is the third year of PCA's Teen Summer Stock Ensemble, and the cast and crew are undaunted by their performance of the screen and Broadway smash - long before their time.
"Grease was a part of my childhood," said Sarah Lemcke, 17. "I had never seen other musicals. My little friends and I knew all the songs, and when I found out that PCA was doing it, I auditioned." And, when she was chosen to play Patty, "I was psyched," she said.
Some in the cast have appeared on the PCA stage before, while others, such as Lemcke, have experience in school plays. "Grease is a crazy immersion in the arts that I had never seen before," she said. "Dancing, singing and acting two hours each every day, you use all of your energy (rehearsing) seven hours every single day."
The 25 teens, ranging in age from 13 to 18, began rehearsing on June 18. They start at 2 p.m., take a dinner break, and are back at work until 9 p.m., "giving them an experience as professional as you can give them that goes beyond the high school level," said Jon Meyer, PCA executive director at the play's director. "The aim is to do a professional show."
Because of a donation from the PCA Charter Auxiliary, the youths are participating in summer stock for free.
Meyer said he chose "Grease" because he thought it "would attract a lot of teens to come out and audition," coupled with "a commercial value for our audiences." He added that he chose the "school version," so that teens could participate without any fear of content, a consideration for audiences, as well.
Besides the reality of hard work, the teenagers are learning much more from their arduous rehearsals.
"I've learned a lot of tolerance, patience and enthusiasm," said Andre Sylvester, 17, who wants to go into musical theater and plays Kenickie, a character "who has a sick sense of humor. He demands respect, thinking he's a lady's man, though truly he isn't."
Cast members agree that they are having fun rehearsing for "Grease," despite the long days.
"It's demanding but a lot more fun," said Jonah Tenney, 16, who plays lead Danny Zuko. "It's fun to do everyday," David Lemcke, who is cast as Sonny, said, adding, "It's super challenging - dancing, acting and singing."
Enthusiasm's spirit echoed around the room of young thespians as they talked about the challenges they face in their various roles in "Grease."
Scarlett Miller, 15, as Sandy Dumbrowski, is in her first leading role and is "learning a lot about acting and my voice and to be a character and not yourself."
Kyrsten Yale, 15, as Rizzo, is "learning about compassion for my cast. This cast has become family," she said. Christiana White, 17, who plays Marty, has found that "being a principal in this has meant a lot. It's taught me how to work with other actors on stage rather than just myself."
Tenney said the "Grease" experience "teaches you a lot more than acting. It teaches you leadership. The cast looks up to you, and you can't let them down." Daniel Grayson, 16, who plays Doody, has "never done something as professional as this. It's a good look into what professional theater is."
Both Mitchell Keating, 17, who plays Eugene, and Lemcke have learned to be introspective as they rehearse their roles.
"This is the first role I've had that I get to experiment with character. I've played in other plays but this is the first time that I've had to get critical and think like the character would." Lemcke said "Patty," the antagonist, is "outrageous, obnoxious and the obstacle between Danny and Sandy. Character analysis has been a challenge. It's different than any character I've played before."
James Robertson, 15, is Roger in "Grease," and for him, learning about a lot of different kinds of dancing has been his test.
And this is where choreographer and veteran dancer Amanda Woolsey, 17, plays a major role, "doing an amazing job," Meyer said, in her first stint composing intricate dance steps for an entire show, a task she began in February.
Being a teacher rather than a student has "been a whole new world," she said. She has to "make sure every single person looks good. It's like an artist painting. You're telling a story through your dancing."
Woolsey had different levels of dancing ability to work with - she taught the boys in a two-week class just for them. "It felt special. It touched my heart," she said, adding that she's been "throwing everything at the cast - from simple dance moves to extremely difficult ones. Their progress really warms my heart."
Singer Jordan Kliphon, 13, who plays Frenchy, is another veteran of the stage, despite her young age, and she has her sights set on musical theater on Broadway when she grows up.
"I'm willing to do all the practice I need to do and work for it," she said.
"Grease" performances are at 7:30 p.m. Thursday, Friday and Saturday, with 2 p.m. matinees on Saturday and Sunday. Tickets are $8 and are available by calling PCA at 445-3286 or visiting www.pca-az.net. Prescott Center for the Arts is located at 208 N. Marina St.