'Grease' slides into Bradenton

mclear@bradenton.comSeptember 12, 2013 

It's a famous musical that doesn't include some of its most famous songs.

"Grease" first hit American stages in 1971 and became a hit on Broadway the following year.

But it didn't become a cultural phenomenon until 1978, when the movie version opened in theaters and its songs "Grease," "Hopelessly Devoted to You" and "You're the One That I Want" dominated radio.

They were all written specifically for the movie, though, and they weren't added to the stage musical until decades later.

Audiences who come to see the Manatee Players' production of "Grease", which opens this weekend, will see the original show, not the one with the movie songs added. But director Jared Walker says even people who only know "Grease" because of the movie won't feel shortchanged.

"There are still plenty of great songs," Walker said. "You've got 'Greased Lightnin',' you've got 'Beauty School Dropout.'"

There's also "Summer Nights," which may be the show's single most recognizable song.

This will be Walker's first show as director for Manatee Players, though he's designed the costumes for several previous shows, including "Annie get Your Gun" and "Guys and Dolls."

For this production, he said, he's staying faithful to the flavor of the original stage version, but tweaking it a bit toward more realism.

"It's definitely 'Grease,'" he said. "But there's a dark side. It's not 'Happy Days.' These guys are in a gang. They carry lead pipes."

The cast includes some long-time Manatee Players regulars and some newcomers.

One of the regulars is Emma Slotabac, who's appeared in "Miss Saigon," "Legally Blonde" and "Seven Brides for Seven Brothers."

"Who doesn't love 'Grease'?" she said. "I auditioned and I just wanted to be part of this show. When I got the call that I got Sandy, I screamed."

Sandy, of course, is the wholesome newcomer to Rydell High, the Olivia Newton-John character, who falls in love with the rough-edged Danny Zuko, who's played here by another Manatee Players regular, Bryce Frase.

Among the newcomers is Meredith Garofalo, who's playing Rizzo, This is only her second stage play ever. She was in the ensemble of her one previous show.

Singing has always been my passion," she said. "And I've always wanted to play Rizzo. There's something about her, something that relates to things that happened to me when I was growing up."

Garofalo's fairly new to theater, but she's used to having an audience. She's a meteorologist by profession, and she spent a couple of years doing the weather locally for channel 7.

Director Walker he had a huge number of young performers audition for the show because, as Slotabec said, everyone loves "Grease." The 30 or so who ended up in the cast are one of the best groups he's experienced at Manatee Players.

"I love my cast," he said. "I'm very blessed."

Details: Sept. 12-29, Manatee Performing Arts Center, 502 Third St. W., Bradenton. Show times: 7:30 p.m. Tuesday-Thursday, 8 p.m. Friday-Saturday, 2 p.m. Sunday. Tickets: $26-$36. Information: 941-748-5875, www.manateeplayers.com.

Marty Clear, features writer/columnist, can be reached at 941-748-0411, ext. 7919. Follow twitter.com/martinclear.

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