Summer days are rapidly drifting away, but the Columbus Children's Theatre pre-professional company is striving to make the remaining summer nights a blast from the past with its production of "Grease."
Having celebrated an eight-year run on Broadway, a 1978 musical film and two subsequent revivals, Jim Jacobs and Warren Casey's popular musical follows the love story of two high school seniors of the Rydell High School Graduating Class of 1959. After a passionate summer romance, Danny Zuko (Ricky Locci), the leader of a greaser gang, and Sandy Dumbrowski (Jordan Shafer), a new "good girl" in town, find themselves faced with the challenge of rekindling their romance in a setting permeated by the societal norms associated with strictly defined high school personas. Exploring the themes of love, rebellion and teenage adolescence, "Grease" is a show that has become a staple title in musical theater history.
"It is an iconic movie and an iconic piece of American pop culture," he said. "I thought, 'Oh let's do 'Grease' and let's do 'Grease' and make it a little more raw. Let's get underneath the skin and find out what makes these characters tick."
But approaching the production in this way wasn't always easy, Bahgat said, emphasizing the balance that must be struck between drawing upon actors' personal emotions and those of the characters that they play.
"I definitely kept the moments in the piece that everyone knows, the iconic moments. And I didn't try to create a different take on a character," he said. "I just tried to get the actors to really think about 'How do you really feel right now? What would you be feeling?'"
Unlike the other shows performed by CCT throughout the year, the summer pre-professional company showcases the talents of actors between the ages of 16 and 22, Bahgat said.
William Goldsmith, artistic director for CCT, said the shows performed by this group tend to be geared toward an older cast and audience, which has paid off in the past.
"It is the chance for high school and college students who are home for the summer to perform a major Broadway musical in a professional environment. Every year I am amazed by the talent," Goldsmith said in an email. "In choosing the show, I try to look for ensemble pieces with large casts to provide the most opportunity. And, it has to be something these kids will want to perform. We haven't been afraid to do 'edgy' material with this group. They are young adults and want to be challenged."
Because productions performed by the pre-professional company often deal with themes suited for a more mature audience, the shows are usually recommended for viewers older than the normal CCT constituency (ages 4 - 10), Goldsmith said. The CCT website recommends its production of "Grease" to be viewed by audience members ages 12 and up.
"Watching this cast of young adults really grow and really take pride in the project is so rewarding," he said. "I have directed big musicals before, I have directed small musicals before, and big or small, it doesn't really matter to me. What matters is how the actors enjoy the process. And in return, I believe if an actor enjoys the process of putting on a show, the audience will enjoy the production."
Goldsmith agreed and said he thinks that audience members will come away from the production with an appreciation for the talent displayed by the cast.
"We want them to be thrilled (and) amazed by the quality of the production and by the talent," he said. "We believe it will stand up against any professional production anywhere."
Bahgat said he hopes people who watch CCT's production of "Grease" will be inspired to reconsider how they view the characters and events in the musical, adding that he thinks theater should make the audience feel something after watching a show on stage.
"I hope that people look at the show and say 'Oh, there is more to 'Grease' than just some fluff, than just cotton candy,'" he said. "There is actually a story there that is kind of interesting. Sit back, enjoy yourself for a couple of hours, but also reach for something deeper than what the surface tells us it is."
CCT's production of "Grease" began on July 30 and runs through Aug. 16 at Park Street Theatre.
Tickets are $15 and can be purchased by calling (614) 224-6672 or through Ticketmaster. All seats are reserved.
Park Street Theatre is located at 512 Park St.
Photo credit: William Goldsmith