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Curtain to rise on student production of ‘Grease’

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Actors, volunteers work for months on fund-raiser for elementary schools

By Sharon Graves

The Pink Ladies and T-Birds of Rydell High will be be-bopping onstage in a musical production of “Grease” this weekend at Carroll County Middle School.

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Performances are set for 7 p.m. Friday and Saturday, Feb. 6-7, in the Sam Simpson Auditorium at CCMS. Tickts are $5, and are only being sold at the door.

The cast of more than 20 students from Carroll County’s high school, middle school and Kathryn Winn Primary, have been practicing for nearly a year, said producer Melanie Stewart. Stewart is president of Students, Teachers and Parents Leading Education Successfully, or STAPLES. Proceeds from the play will be used by STAPLES to help fund programs at Cartmell Elementary and Winn schools.

Practice, practice, practice

During rehearsals, the music was irresistable for onlookers, who watched the cast sing and dance its way through senior year at mythical Rydell High School in the 1950s. In between scenes, cast members said they have really enjoyed working on the production and will be sad when it is over.

“There is nothing I don’t like about this, except for maybe the stress level,” said Brandon Stewart, an eighth-grader cast in the lead role of “greaser” Danny Zuko.

“I love the camaraderie,” chimed in his co-star, junior Sarah Beach, who plays “good girl” Sandy Dumbrowski. Their roles were made famous in the 1978 movie “Grease” by John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John.

“It’s like a big family,” said junior Emily Lewis, who plays an English teacher.

“I really love the dancing and the singing,” said senior Cody Clifton, one of the T-Birds.

“This is so much fun, I can’t put it into words,” eighth-grader Lidia Jimenez, who plays Patty the cheerleader, added.

Already a veteran of the stage, Clifton has been in previous productions, including “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” and last year’s CCHS production of “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory,” in which he was the lead.

The lone senior in the group, he said he feels responsible for setting a good example. He said he tries to be ready and know his part at every rehearsal. And he dreams of being an actor, and plans to pursue his goal when he goes to college. In the meantime, he said, he keeps a notebook filled with his ideas, scripts, scenes, and titles he has written for projects he hopes someday to complete.

Beach, who is usually reserved, must “morph” into a gum-chewing hip girl by the final curtain. She laughed about how her hair will be teased “way up” for the final scene between her and Brandon.

Volunteers help

behind-the-scenes

Melanie Stewart said she has surrounded herself with many dedicated volunteers from the community who have the expertise to help pull off this event: school board member Jennifer Beach is director of music; Cindy Hedges is choreographer; Aaron Hutchings and Randy Pickett are in charge of technical equipment and support; and Beth Toombs and Patsy Stewart are costume designers.

Local musicians Dan Mahoney, Kerry Mefford and Vanessa Burchfield also are lending a hand, Stewart said. And local businesses, such as McNeal’s Hardware and Craig’s Do It Center, have donated materials for the sets, created by Will Price.

Stewart said the show-stopper will be a set in which Danny and his friends are building a car, complete with a real automobile grille. Jeff Robbins, Rob and Tracey McBurney and Herb Kinman are collaborating to help bring that scene to life.

Before rehearsals, the actors and crew must clear the stage of band instruments used by students in music classes during the day, then make sure everything is put back before they leave.

The rehearsals, themselves, are abuzz with activity. At any given moment, singing and dancing are fine-tuned on stage; student-actors do their homework in between scenes; technicians work on sound-checks and props; costumes are fitted; and musicians work on their parts.

The start

of something new?

Stewart said she hopes this begins a tradition of musical productions in the school district, which falls in line with the administration’s goal of increasing the role of the arts in education.

“Cody Clifton told me the other day, ‘This is the most exciting thing I’ve ever done in my life,’ and that made me feel that this is so worth it,” she said.

To top it off, the cast and crew were treated to a live performance of “Grease” at the Aronoff Center in Cincinnati earlier this year. Brandon Stewart said his group sang the songs they’d rehearsed while they were in the foyer at the center, and said people stopped to hear them sing.

The group also stayed after the performance to meet the actors, including former “American Idol” winner Taylor Hicks, and get autographs.

Hicks had a cameo in the second act, taking on the role of Teen Angel, made famous in the film by Frankie Avalon.