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Summer theater's 'Grease' devoted to songs

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Randy Hotski plays the guitar as Doody in a rehearsal of “Grease” for the Shenandoah Summer Music Theatre at Shenandoah University. — Rich Cooley/Daily

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The cast of the Shenandoah Summer Music Theatre's production of "Grease" rehearses at Shenandoah University recently. — Rich Cooley/Daily

By Josette Keelor -- jkeelor@nvdaily.com

"Grease" is the word of the third play in the Shenandoah Summer Music Theatre's lineup, and, according to the cast, audience members will be pleased that the play includes songs from the 1978 movie.

Adding the movie's score wasn't as easy as it sounds, Director Hal Herman said during a recent interview. It took the theater the greater part of 10 months to secure the rights to songs like "Hopelessly Devoted" -- songs that the cast say are worth the effort.

Abbey Austin, who stars as Sandy, said audience members will expect the movie's musical lineup when they come to see the play, so she's glad the theater will be able to offer that -- something that many other theaters that produce the stage play cannot do.

As a result, the Winchester audience will get to hear more songs than usual.

"I think people are going to be very pleased," Austin said. "It's a combination of the original songs and the songs they added from the movie."

Beginning the 2012 season with "Legally Blond," the theater traveled back in time to 1979 for the second play, Dolly Parton's "9 to 5 The Musical." "Grease" brings the cast back even further to the 1950s, when new girl Sandy finds herself a member of a crowd of boisterous high school-age Pink Ladies, who quickly learn Sandy's summer love, Danny, is the leader of the T-Birds, the boys' group at school.

"It is fun to be a part of something that's so classic," Austin said. "It reaches out to a lot of people."

Lou Steele, who plays Danny, said the trick is finding a balance between being true to the role so many people already know and making it his own.

"I'm not here to pay John Travolta," he said. He hopes to bring life to the character. "There's no depth if we don't create our own."

"With this play," Austin said, "I feel like people want to see Sandy a certain way. I also have a lot of great role models," she said, from Olivia Newton-John to performers on Broadway.

Doing research on the 1971 musical and on the time period has been helpful, Austin said.

Playing off each other's talents, the cast members are overcoming the challenge of portraying characters from the '50s.

Steele and Austin worked together on "Legally Blond," and the other leads find like minds in each others characters.

"Essentially you've got two cliques," Steele said.

Whitney Warrenfeltz plays Betty Rizzo, and Zac Ostrowski plays Kenickie -- the tough guys of their cliques.

Mallory Keene plays Frenchy, of the Pink Ladies, and Randy Hodson plays Doody of the T-Birds.

"We're the kind of oblivious ones," Keene said.

"Everyone has kind of their counterpart," said James Shoppe, who plays Sonny.

Though the play takes place in the '50s, the cast said it's pretty timeless.

"People don't change," Hodson said.

Mostly it's the absence of familiar terms that throw off the actors, Warrenfeltz said.

As Brooke in "Legally Blond," she said, it felt perfectly natural to throw in contemporary language, something that she learned didn't feel right in her role of Doralee in "9 to 5."

Austin, who also has performed in the summer's first two plays, agreed.

"It was challenging to go from Elle to Sandy, because they are so different," she said. "I feel like I'm getting more of an opportunity to act and experiment in this show."

"I think it's the perfect show for the summer," she said.

Hodson assured, "It's doing to be a romping good time."

"Grease" will begin at the Ohrstrom-Bryant Theater at Shenandoah University in Winchester on July 11 and will run through July 22. For tickets and information, call 665-4569 or visit www.shenandoahsummermusictheatre.com.

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