'Grease' is the word starting Friday

SHELLEY BYRNE/The Mayfield Messenger

The teen cast of Purchase Players' production of "Grease" rehearses the song "Summer Nights." Lead roles are played by Carter Parks as Danny and Karly Jones as Sandy (center stage).

The 25 teenage cast and crew members participating in the Purchase Players' Teen Workshop had to learn about much more than singing, dancing and acting for their culminating performances of the musical "Grease."

"The kids are really getting into the different cultures and the different times," director Donna Koebler said.

"Grease" is set at the fictional Rydell High School in 1959. The musical features many of the same songs that John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John sang about in the 1978 movie, including a special arrangement allowing the production to use the song "Hopelessly Devoted to You."

However, not everything will be as fans of the movie may remember. "We've added some fun little things in there to make it a little different," Koebler said, adding the performance also includes some songs from the Broadway musical that were not in the movie.

One of the challenges has been for teens to learn about the technology (or lack of it) available in the 1950s.

"They were just fascinated with a dial phone," Koebler recalled, laughing of how she had to explain how the rotary dial system worked.

For a big prom scene, students were also startled to learn that what teens of the 1950s might wear to a school dance did not resemble the fashion students would wear today.

The teens also didn't catch some of the musical's pop culture references at first. They didn't know late-1950s/early-1960s teen idol Fabian, pop music star Ricky Nelson or actress Annette Funicello. "It was so fun to teach the 'Hand Jive,'" Koebler said. "They never knew that was considered a dance from back in the time."

Some scenes, on the other hand, were extremely relatable.

"The show does have some things back then that are still an issue today," Koebler said. "Sometimes there is bullying, and teen pregnancy is an issue they deal with in the show."

Koebler said the students handled the issues very maturely.

"They're working hard to give the best show they can give," she said.

Musical theater fans can see the results of all their work beginning with opening night Friday. Performances of "Grease" will be Friday and Saturday at 7 p.m. and Sunday at 2 p.m. for the next two weekends, Aug. 2-4 and Aug. 9-11.

This year, teens are running the whole show and not just performing on stage.

"We've actually got teens running sound and lights," Koebler said. "The stage manager herself has a crew. The kids are learning how all that works. Even though they may not choose to do that in the future, they're getting the broad aspects of theater and how musical theater works in this particular one."

Alexa Pritchard, 15, does hope to use her role as teen director as a step in her career path. Pritchard said she is sometimes a little shy, and she thinks the experience helped her break out of her shell a bit.

"I have to be loud and talk to everybody at once," she said.

Sometimes, she said, that has a few benefits.

"I think it's kind of fun bossing my friends around," she said with a grin.

Courtney Phillips, 15, is the teen stage manager. She said the workshop allowed her to participate in theater in ways she never would have otherwise. Although her older brother likes to act, she never has.

"I've never been into being on stage," she said. "That's not my thing, but I've always kind of been interested in what goes on backstage."

As part of the workshop, the students learned about props and set pieces, music and choreography, as well as about mannerisms and turns of phrase that would have been common to the 1959 period setting.

"We're also teaching them about the makeup and the hairstyles at that time and getting them used to staying in character, thinking about how their character would act," Koebler said.

They are working extremely well together, she said. "They are learning how to help each other pick up a line or get someone back, and that's hard to teach."

The teens meet for practice at least three hours an evening, four nights a week.

"They are so open-minded and willing to learn," Koebler said.

Karly Jones, 16, plays Sandy, the lead female role.

"It's so much fun," she said of the part. "It's such an iconic part, and to be a small part of this is so rewarding. Of course, it's a lot of pressure because everybody comes in expecting Olivia Newton-John."

She said she was struck by how different teens' lives are today compared to 1959.

"It's so different from us growing up today," she said. "I grew up with my TV and my phone and always having them near me."

An example she gave was characters in the play always having to make plans in person, something she wasn't used to.

Blaise Pearson, 17, hadn't acted outside of school productions, which he hadn't participated in since middle school. He plays Kenickie.

"I love Kenickie because he's kind of rude," Pearson said. "He's just straight up with people."

He said a challenge is finding his nicer side.

"You've got to be a tough guy, but at the same time be there for the girl. He's got to be a little bit of a softie, too."

• Tickets to "Grease" are $13 for adults, $11 for students and seniors and $9 for children. Children 3 and under in a ticketholder's lap are free. They are available at purchaseplayers.com or at the box office. The box office is open from 5:30-7 p.m. Thursday and an hour before each performance.