The cast of an iconic musical will be filling the Whidbey Playhouse stage with song, dance and leather beginning this Friday.
“Grease” was first performed in 1971 and made into a feature film in 1978. The musical marks the return of the first full season for the Whidbey Playhouse in Oak Harbor since the COVID-19 pandemic. It runs Sept. 9 to Oct. 2.
“This is our first full-on musical in two years,” said Allenda Jenkins, one of the co-directors. “And it’s our first full-on season in two years.”
Five shows are running this season. The education program is starting back up as well. There are acting classes for both adults and children.
“The community is ready,” she said. “Let’s get our theater back open.”
Jenkins co-directed “Grease” with Eric George. They teamed up because the show is so large; the cast has 20 people.
“It was really, really nice having a co-pilot with this,” George said. “There was a lot.”
Many things had to be tweaked to perfection – choreography, vocals, period-accurate costumes, microphones, lights, etc.
George said cast members have done a great job of making the show their own and are not simply mimicking the actors in the famous movie.
The Whidbey News-Times’ own Karina Andrew stars as Sandy, the sheltered ingenue who pines for greaser Danny throughout the show. Andrew is making her theater debut after seven years away from the stage. Even though she hadn’t been in a show since high school, she always knew it was something she would come back to.
“The first thing I did when I moved here was look up if Whidbey Island or Oak Harbor had a local theater,” she said.
Andrew covered shows at the Playhouse for her job as a reporter before finally deciding to audition for one. The character of Sandy seemed to be the perfect role for Andrew to return to the stage.
“I relate to Sandy a lot as a character,” she said, “because her being a goody-goody and contending with judgment from others while deciding who she wants to be is pretty true to my high school experience, if I’m being totally honest.”
Andrew described the performance as “really intentionally crafted.” The cast has been rehearsing five days a week since the beginning of June. Olivia Newton-John, who played Sandy in the 1978 film adaptation, passed away on Aug. 8.
“This is a surreal and special time, I think, to be in this show, and especially to be playing Sandy,” Andrew said.
She said the cast has dedicated the show to Newton-John and hopes to pay tribute to her.
Chris King, who plays Danny Zuko, is also making his debut at the Playhouse. He just graduated from Oak Harbor High School and his theater teacher told him about the auditions for “Grease.”
“I thought if I was going to do anything, this would probably be the most fun show I could possibly do,” he said.
King said the most challenging part was playing such an outgoing character and gaining confidence acting out some of the more outlandish scenes. He said he wasn’t expecting his favorite part to be all of the choreography he gets to do in the second act.
“It’s been more fun than I could have imagined,” he said.
Andrew Huggins plays Roger, one of the members of the T-Birds, Danny’s gang. Huggins has been in about 10 shows at the Playhouse before and has also directed a few. He plays a teenager in the show even though he’s a few decades older in real life.
Huggins sings a song in this performance that is not in the movie. Even ardent fans of the film will find new things to enjoy in this stage version.
“The show is a lot like the movie but it’s not the movie,” he said.
Dany Stahl plays Sonny, another T-Bird, and said it’s been about 15 years since she’s been in a theater production. Her grandma used to work at the box office when she was growing up so she has spent a lot of time at the Playhouse. She thought “Grease,” a show she loves, was the perfect opportunity to come back. Her friends in the cast encouraged her to audition.
“I couldn’t imagine anybody else doing what we’re doing,” she said of the cast. “It just makes sense to me.”
Marianne Campos plays Frenchy and has been doing musicals on and off since high school. She described “Grease” as iconic and she said she didn’t want to miss the opportunity to be a part of it.
“I feel like it’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity kind of thing,” she said.
Eclipse Garrett plays a T-Bird named Doody and joined the cast after getting an email that there were not enough people to play male roles in the cast. Garrett has been doing shows at the Playhouse since the age of 6. Garrett’s 13-year-old brother is also in the ensemble.
“It’s good for him because he doesn’t get great access to shows, especially since the pandemic because there’s not been any junior shows here,” Garrett said.
Jamie Polubinksi plays school secretary Blanche. She once said to her mother, who passed away last year, that if “Grease” ever came to the Playhouse she would audition because it’s her favorite show. She hadn’t acted in a theater production since she was a child.
“The cast is almost like a second family to me,” she said. “It’s been just such a positive experience.”
George said he started to tear up at rehearsal because the cast has grown so much from auditions to the performance that they will soon get to share with audiences.
“I was watching a rehearsal the other night and it was just emotional for me,” he said. “It really was.”