April 2010

Hilton Head Prep Students Rev Up the Stage with Grease

Author: Paula Magrini | Photographer: Photography By Anne

Playing April 8-10 at Hilton Head Island High School

“We go together, like ramalala ka-dingity ding de don!”

Admit it! You remember those lyrics and could probably hum the tune that accompanies them. There are few American hometowns whose movie screens or high school stages haven’t featured the popular 1950s musical, Grease, over the past few decades. Now Hilton Head Prep takes us back to Rydell High School where summer sweethearts, Danny Zuko and Sandy Dumbrowski, collide in a surprising reunion amidst the rumblings and romances of the raucous T-Bird gang and the sassy Pink Ladies.

Veteran actor and senior, Jarrett Nixon, who plays the character Eugene, says the Prep rendition of Grease is a departure from the well-known movie version starring John Travolta and Olivia Newton John. “We’ve put our own stamp on the musical numbers and the cast members bring a bunch of new talent to the awesome roles in Grease,” he explained. Nixon has had major roles in spring musicals during all four of his high school years at Prep, learning to juggle the demands of theater, academics and athletics, while still making time for his friends. “Actually this year a lot of my friends are in the show, so it’s easier to hang out together,” he said.

Nixon’s long-time buddy, James Richardson, snagged the role of tough-guy lead, Kenickie. “It’s the first time I’ve starred in a high school musical even though it’s my final year at Prep,” Richardson said. “I’m really glad I tried out, because this role has allowed me to try on a whole new personality. And getting out there on stage really is a lot of fun.”

After a surprisingly high number of students (79) appeared for tryouts Prep’s new performing arts director, Ben Wolfe, expanded his original Grease cast from 19 to 35. Twenty-three of the cast members are guys, with four of six male leads, like Richardson, performing on stage for the first time. Wolfe attributes that trend to a number of factors.

“With the arrival of shows like Fox TV’s Glee, theater is now considered cool by girls and guys on the high school scene, because it’s been embraced by the popular media and relevant celebrities,” Wolfe said. “Plus the guys know they can participate in the performing arts and still devote time to sports and other school activities. We try to accommodate the schedules of our student actors and actresses by holding very structured rehearsals and posting a complete list of practice times online.”

The Grease cast includes students from Prep’s upper school, ranging from seventh grader, Hannah Simpson, in the role of Sandy, to senior, Lyle Izzillo, who plays Danny. Two more seniors, Brittnay Johnston and Andrea Keriozakos, round out the predominantly male cast with lead roles as Rizzo and Frenchy, respectively. According to Wolfe, the lead roles require two-hour practices nightly as he fine-tunes the musical numbers and dance routines. “This group of kids is one of the best casts I’ve ever had,” he said. “Their enthusiasm has been incredible, and they’ve proven themselves to be a dynamic ensemble.”

Wolfe also has plenty of praise for Prep’s Arts Guild and a number of parents who have put their personal lives on hold to costume the cast and dress the Visual Performing Arts Center (VPAC) stage. Costume designer, Caroline Noble, successfully located vintage 1950s apparel for the T-Birds, Pink Ladies and other Grease cast members via tireless hours on her blog, “Madhouse Vintage.” When Wolfe issued a plea for help with locating an old Thunderbird or other appropriate auto for use as Kenickie’s beloved “Greased Lightening” on set, he had a prompt response from Arts Guild members. “I received an e-mail from one mom who canvassed the Lowcountry with her camera, providing photos of old clunkers from various locations,” he recalled. “I couldn’t believe the amount of research she did to find the perfect car—and she’s a volunteer!”

As the curtain rises on the nostalgic setting of Rydell High and the classic tale of boy meets girl…loses girl…wins girl back, Wolfe is confident he’s assembled the right mix of talent, energy, authenticity, and memorable musical numbers packed with ’50s finesse.

Got your hand jive ready?

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About the Director

Hilton Head Prep’s new performing arts director, Benjamin Wolfe, previously directed students at Savannah Country Day School. He has also worked with the Savannah Little Theater where he recently directed The Diary of Ann Frank, a production which earned him the award, “Best Local Theater Director,” from Connect Savannah magazine. Wolfe earned his college degree at Armstrong Atlantic University.

Following a string of successful musical productions by Prep’s performing arts students at Hilton Head’s VPAC, Wolfe is working to expand Prep’s theater curriculum with classes that offer advanced instruction in acting, directing and stage management.

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Grease at a Glance
Where: Visual Performing Arts Center (VPAC) at Hilton Head Island High School
When: Thursday, April 8-Saturday, April 10 (two shows on Sat.)
How much: $10-$20
Length: Approximately 2 hours
Suitability: The whole family
Tickets: (843) 671-2286 ext. ART
Online: hhprep.org

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