Last year Grease celebrated its 40 anniversary, with fans still hopelessly devoted to this cult musical about the boys and girls of Rydell High.
implies many complex things, it is actually about the ordinary, everyday lives
of a group of teenagers. Their chief worries are whether or not they’ll have a
date to the dance and can they get the car.
Based on a hit Broadway musical about the love affairs of 1950s high school students, Grease has been capturing the hearts of fans for four decades. For three performances in March 2019, students from Leipzig International School took to the gritty, industrial stage that is Werk 2, Halle 2 in Connewitz, to tell us more.
With #MeToo awareness in the foreground, one doesn’t take on a musical like Grease without thinking twice, perhaps thrice. Having settled on performing the high school version (“cleaned up”, so to speak) of the popular musical, I felt compelled to read extensively to be sure about my direction as I set about bringing this show to the LIS community.
Scott Miller, in his 2006 book, Sex, Drugs, Rock & Roll, and Musicals, reminds us that 1959 was a pivotal moment in American cultural history, when rock and roll was giving birth to the Sexual Revolution and everything in American culture was about to be turned upside down. “Grease”, he claims, “is really the story of America’s tumultuous crossing over from the 50s to the 60s, overthrowing repression and tradition for freedom and adventure (and a generous helping of cultural chaos), a time when the styles and culture of the disengaged and disenfranchised became overpowering symbols of teenage power and autonomy. Originally a rowdy, dangerous, over-sexed, and insightful piece of alternative theatre, Grease was inspired by the rule-busting success of Hair and shows like it, rejecting the trappings of other Broadway musicals for a more authentic, more visceral, more radical theatrical experience that revealed great cultural truths about America.”
This year LIS brought you Grease to reveal some of these cultural truths. At the end of the day, Grease is about authenticity, the watchword of that first rock and roll generation. Miller urges us to understand what Sandra Dee represented. She wasn’t happy in her real life because she was never allowed to be herself – to be authentic – and Sandy Dumbrowski suffers the same problem. Sandra Dee represents not just strict morality in Grease, but the entire manufactured mainstream culture of 1950s America, a culture the kids of Grease reject.
In Grease, Sandy ultimately assimilates into the greaser community, rejecting her parents’ world view. To quote Miller once more, “Grease isn’t just about Sandy saying goodbye to her false idols; it’s also about America saying goodbye to the false idols of the 1950s, saying goodbye to the turning of its collective blind eye away from the hidden horrors of the decade: rampant racism, sexism, homophobia, teen pregnancy and abortion, prescription drug abuse in the suburbs, and so much more. Sandy has to face herself and find her own authenticity but, so too, does America.” So, too, the LIS community.
The subtle nod to a DDR aesthetic is deliberate and calculated for the sexual-cultural revolution was not confined to America; inauthenticity is a global phenomenon, and teenagers – those potent caldrons of dreams and desire – are remarkably the same around the world.
Sure, the Trabi mightn’t have the same prowess as the American cars of the 1950s, but I am pretty sure that those who were lucky to possess a Trabant have lingering salacious coming-of-age memories. Our Trabi, Achtung Baby, has a distinguished provenance, having been used to promote a series of U2 concerts in Berlin. How fitting and privileged, tonight, for us to have had this iconic car as Greased Lightening.WATCH OUT BABY.
Thanks to the brilliance and dedication of both our musical director, Paul R. Foulkes, and our choreographer Anna-Maria Bernardt, we are able to bring you back to the 1950’s for a little rock ‘n roll. And, naturally, this production would not have been possible without the dedication of Marisa Di Teresa (Costume Design) and Chelsea Vincent (Wardrobe Assistant), Roisin Ní Leathlobhair (Vocal Coach & Production Assistant), and Berivan Kernich (Vocal Coach). The biggest applause, however, goes to the cast who had the guts to audition for the show and then sacrifice the time to attend rehearsals.
Four decades have passed since the Rydell High gang twisted, hand jived and crooned their way into the hearts of teenagers the world over – and this year we hope they left you hopelessly devoted to Grease, to authenticity, and to the music programme at LIS. Grease is the WORD!
M. Thompson, Stage Director
Leipzig International School Productions
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