Theatrical director Laurie Sepe-Marder was at Brio’s, the Phoenicia pizzeria, seeking a slice and worrying about how she was going to cast the male lead, Danny Zuko, in the STS Playhouse production of Grease. She took a look at the young, curly-haired, blond waiter who offered to take her order and asked him, “Do you sing?”
Terrence Boyer, who watched Grease every day after school throughout eighth grade, says he wouldn’t have taken a role in any other play. This theatrical experience is his first. Isadora Newcombe, who played many parts on the STS stage as a teenager, including the title role in Gypsy!, seven years ago, has returned to play Sandy, the female lead in Grease, which opens Friday, May 31, and runs for three weekends in Phoenicia.
With its focus on 1950s high school hijinks, Grease is a high-energy show that gives young people an opportunity to step onto the stage. Several Onteora students and an actor from Margaretville make up a chunk of the ensemble, with a Belgian exchange student, Audrey Arku, playing Frenchy. Chelsea Goodwin, co-owner of Pine Hill Books, has the part of Miss Lynch. Sepe-Marder, a veteran of over 35 directing gigs, including many blockbuster musicals at the Center for Performing Arts in Rhinebeck, brought four Rhinebeck actors to the show.
Cast members include Kristen Caputo, Kyle Berryann, Tori McCarthy, Amber McCarthy, Becca Frank, Sequoia Sellinger, Matt Michael, Thomas Hagakore, Chris Williams, Travis Gooderham, Brian Murray, and Tom Schimmerling.
The play has strong associations for Michael Koegel, artistic director of STS Playhouse, who played Sonny in a production of Grease in the 1970s. The Salt City Players in his hometown of Syracuse was the first amateur company to pounce on the rights to the show after it finished its initial Broadway run. Koegel was close friends with Broadway’s original Kenickie, Timothy Meyers, who has passed away. “He was the only member of the original cast to get a Tony nomination,” said Koegel. “I have the certificate somewhere.”
Koegel is pleased the theater has chosen to do Grease. “We’re reaching out and bringing in new people from outside the area as well as using our talented local actors. And we’re producing a show that is both artistically satisfying and will be a hit with the local community.”
Language must work differently for dancers than for the rest of us.
“Ba ba da da, it’s just the arm, it’s out and it’s quick, it’s gotta loop around….Down two up two tilt three four ba ba da, it comes around, bing, da. ‘Go for your diploma…’ Okay, that’s where the diagonals go.” There are sketchy movements that accompany this recitation, as Sepe-Marder reviews the routine she has just demonstrated for a section of “Beauty School Dropout.” It seems improbable to the casual spectator that the result will be less than chaos. Not so. The dancers are right with her.
“Last time you put in two steps before the tilt,” points out Becca Frank. “This time you put one.”
“Well, let’s see,” replies the director/choreographer, glancing at her notes. They wave, step, and tilt through several bars, and she decides one step will work fine. The music recommences, and the five women, with Sepe-Marder filling in for an absent actress, glide briskly through the moves, evincing surprisingly few wobbles.
Outside the theater, three young men are waiting for their turn onstage. “We’re going to have to slick back our hair,” observes Travis Gooderham. It’s hard to picture Thomas Hagakore’s long dark locks and Boyer’s curls greased straight back for the performances.
Boyer discusses his decision to take the part of Danny. “People asked me if I’d be nervous onstage,” he muses. “But I figure I’m in front of people at the restaurant all the time. It’s going to be the same people in the audience. This is a small town.”
Grease will run for three weekends at Shandaken Theatrical Society’s STS Playhouse, 10 Church Street, Phoenicia. Shows are May 31, June 2, 7, 8, 14, 15 at 8 p.m.; June 2, 9, 16 at 2 p.m. (No show June 1, two shows June 2.) Tickets are $15 general admission; $12 for seniors, students, STS members. For reservations, call 845-688-2279. See also https://stsplayhouse.com.