"Grease" to be the first main stage production at the River Campus this semester
One of the most popular and longest-running Broadway musicals of all time is about to hit the stage for Southeast Missouri State University's first main stage production of the year.
"Grease" is set in the 1950s when poodle skirts, leather jackets and hair gel were not too hard to find at Rydell High.
Two high school students who unexpectedly rekindle their summer romance explore the joys and pains of teenage life along with their gang of friends.
Preparations for the production began well before the school year started. The musical was picked by a selection committee from the theatre and dance department.
All 160 people majoring in the department participate in school productions in some way, such as costume design, building and creating props, music composition and orchestra and acting.
Lead director Dr. Kenneth Stilson said students from all majors are required to take a class called Rehearsal and Production, and through that class every person is connected with the shows.
Casting immediately was set and rehearsals started the first week back at school with four to six hours of rehearsal time put in every day, and almost 10 hours of rehearsal and work during Labor Day weekend.
A mixture of experienced actors and performers new to the stage fill the cast list. Leading pair Sandra Dee and Danny Zuko are played by senior Stefanie Kluba and sophomore Michael Burrell.
"Stef is terrific because she's got that femininity and yet shes got the toughness," Stilson said. "Sandy has to withstand a whole lot and Stefanie is such a wonderful triple threat. She's an actress, she's a singer and she's a dancer. She is just terrific."
Jess Love will play the role of Betty Rizzo, Keith Johnson will play the role of Kenickie, and Leshay Mathis will play the the role of Cha Cha DiGregorio.
Mathis, a dance captain and assistant choreographer, described being casted in Grease as "a change of pace." She has danced in the department for four years and now is taking the stage.
"It's my first principle role ever," Mathis said. "It's my first time actually portraying a character, and it's been so much work but very rewarding as well. The cast has been so helpful throughout rehearsals, even when it comes to little things Cha Cha does, like should I chew gum or not chew gum?"
Stilson is in his 12th year at Southeast and has directed a number of productions and musicals such as "Hamlet", "The Pajama Game", "Little Shop of Horrors" and "Romeo and Juliet".
"'Grease' has been on my hit list forever," Stilson said. "It's one of my favorites."
He went straight to work bridging the original production with the movie after getting the go-ahead for the production last spring.
"We pick shows for our students as well as our audience," Stilson said. "People are going to recognize themselves in these kids. Whether you're 70 years old or whether you're a college student that comes to these shows, they're going to know everyone up on stage. I hope they leave laughing and singing and dancing."
"Grease" will be shown at 7:30 p.m. from Sept. 26 to 29 and 2 p.m. on Sept. 30 in the Donald C. Bedell Performance Hall. Tickets may be purchased at the River Campus box office or online at rivercampusevents.com.
Orchestra tickets are $20 and mezzanine tickets are $17. Southeast students receive a discount with the presentation of a Southeast ID.