‘Grease’ is the word as musicals return to Westport’s Staples High

Photo of Katrina Koerting

WESTPORT — The Staples Players are welcoming audiences back to live theater at the high school this weekend with song, dance and laughs with their production of “Grease.”

The Staples Players haven’t done a full-scale musical in two years due to the pandemic. Directors David Roth and Kerry Long, both Staples High School alumni, knew they had to come back with a bang — or rather a bolt of “Greased Lightnin’.”

“We knew the announcement of ‘Grease’ would be popular with students, but we didn’t anticipate quite how excited the parents and community would be as well,” Long said. “People love ‘Grease.’ There is something unifying about sitting in the theater and everyone knowing the words to every song. It’s a shared experience that certainly has been lacking during COVID. That unity of experience is so important right now. We hope people are dancing in the aisles.”

The demand was so great, that they’ve added another date to the lineup and are now offering a 7 p.m. show on Nov. 18. Other performances are Nov 12, 13, 19 and 20 at 7:30 p.m. and Nov. 14 and 20 at 3 p.m.

Roth said he’s loved “Grease” since he saw it as a 12-year-old in a movie theater, but this time around they’re telling the tale from the perspective of female empowerment.

“We have explored the history of what was going on in America in 1959 with our students,” Roth said. “It’s the era of ‘Father Knows Best’ and ‘Leave It to Beaver,’ where the traditional American home was expected to have the wife staying home, looking pretty, and wearing the apron while preparing a meal for her husband and children. We feel that the Greasers and, more importantly, The Pink Ladies, are rebelling against this traditional mold of femininity.”

He said the Pink Ladies are the forerunners for the movement that comes in the 1960s where women rebelled against these traditions and fought for women’s rights.

“When Sandy comes to Rydell High, she chooses Danny,” Roth said. “She chooses The Pink Ladies. She is drawn to their rebellion. She is just unsure how to navigate it against the conservative pressures of her parents.”

Chloe Manna, who is president of Players and plays Sandy Dumbrowski, said she tried to show a different side to the lead role.

“Many may see Sandy as a shy and meek character who changes herself for a man,” Manna said. “However, the main goal we had in this production was to find the strength within Sandy. She is a woman trying to figure out her place in a world where she has always been told what to say or do. She finally stops letting others speak for her and becomes the true woman she has always longed to be.”

Sophomore Ben Herrera said he also is showing the lesser seen aspects of the other lead, Danny Zuko, as well as working to improve his own skills.

“I’m not a confident dancer and I’m putting a lot of extra effort into trying to dance better and dance with confidence,” Herrera said. “I’ve definitely tried to work on the confidence aspect of Danny, but I’ve also tried to focus on developing the parts of Danny that aren’t always shown. He is a kind and loving person when he’s being himself.”

Manna said she’s happy to be back on stage after COVID shut down last year’s production of “Seussical” right after dress rehearsal and before the show could be performed for audiences.

“I feel like I can finally breathe,” she said. “Our entire town is craving something to bring light and joy, which ‘Grease’ will certainly achieve. This is half of our cast’s and tech crew’s first Players’ main stage show, which makes the experience that much more rewarding for everyone. The audience will be able to see the camaraderie and friendship between all of us, which is the most important aspect of Grease.”

Assistant Technical Director Alicia D’Anna is feeling that same buzz backstage, where three times as many kids turned out to join the tech crew than usual. She helped oversee the construction of the car featured in the drive-in scene and “Greased Lightnin’” musical number and enjoyed seeing the crew problem solve through the process.

“Everyone is really fired up to be doing something positive as a group,” she said. “Seeing these kids engaged and learning together towards a common goal has been an absolute thrill.”

Herrera said he also expects audiences to see that genuine bond among the students and to enjoy the feel-good show.

“This show emphasizes such a strong message of community and togetherness,” he said.

Tickets cost $20 and can be purchased online at Staplesplayers.com or in the lobby 30 minutes before the show, subject to availability. Performances will be at Staples High School Auditorium, 70 North Ave.

All audience members must show proof of vaccination or a negative COVID test from the past 72 hours. Unvaccinated children under 12 may be tested prior to the show, with an at-home test or proof of test from a lab. Masks must be worn at all times indoors, regardless of vaccination status. All audience members must arrive 30 minutes prior to showtime for COVID protocols. Latecomers may be denied entry.