When the curtain rises Friday night at Wilson High School, some alumni of the Tacoma school might feel like they’re stepping back in time. The student production of “Grease” is set in fictional Rydell High School in 1959 — the year Wilson’s first class graduated.
As the show opens, yearbook photos from Wilson back in the day will be projected onto screens on each side of the stage. A few members of that first graduating class have already confirmed that they will attend, says Brent Chantler, a school English teacher and the show’s associate producer.
The performance will mark the first major musical production at Wilson in many years — possibly the first ever in the school’s 55-year history, teachers say.
Director Susan Beer has a long association with Wilson; her dad was a member of the faculty and she taught English at Wilson for 10 years before retiring.
She said she found some evidence that Wilson students staged “L’il Abner” in the school’s early years.
“Then, there was a long lull,” she said. “There was a long stretch where they didn’t do anything remotely reaching the production levels (of ‘Grease’).”
The show will include a live band made up of Wilson students. Wilson alums pitched in to help with choreography and set-building. A former Wilson cheerleader loaned her cheerleading outfit, and businesses and residents donated props.
Beer, who has acted in Lakewood Playhouse productions and served as artistic director of a British Columbia theater, came out of retirement to serve as drama adviser for the newly named Ram Actors Guild. Chantler, also a Wilson alum, said he and other teachers involved in “Grease” hope it will launch a new era for the school’s drama department.
The stage musical is where many disciplines merge: language skills, music, dance, technical talents and more.
“For so many kids who are even remotely drawn to this, it can be life-changing,” Beer says.
“Grease” is a love story set against the backdrop of high school angst and teenage cliques.
Wilson senior Dakota Logar and junior Emily Tharp play the star-crossed couple Danny Zuko and Sandy Dumbrowski whose story is at the heart of the production.
They’ll bring a bit of true-life romance to their roles: They’re boyfriend and girlfriend in real life.
“We met in show choir,” explains Dakota. “We’ve known each other awhile.”
“The chemistry is pretty easy to pull off,” adds Emily, who will wear a pink poodle skirt that her mom and Dakota’s mom helped make for her.
Sophomore McKaylia Marshall tried out for her first musical because she loves “Grease.” She estimates she has seen the movie at least 100 times, and she grew up in a big extended family that’s also in love with the musical’s soundtrack.
Students say Beer has taught them a lot about musical theater in a short time.
Senior Connor Henricksen learned that putting on a musical means “using more of your body, and less of your voice.” Even simple tips from Beer, such as how to stand on stage, make a difference, he adds.
Some of Wilson’s young actors are interested in performing arts careers. Emily is applying to Cornish College of the Arts in Seattle. But others, such as ensemble singer/dancer Caitlin Upshall, signed on to the production purely for fun. She’s hoping to major in biology or history next year in college.
She likes the idea that she’s helping to create a musical production legacy for future Wilson kids.
“It’s part of history,” she said.
“Grease” opens this weekend at Wilson High School, 1202 N. Orchard St., Tacoma.
Doors open at 6:30 p.m Friday and Saturday and again Feb. 8-9. Curtain time is 7 p.m.
Tickets cost $10, or $7 for students with an ASB card. For ticket information, call 253-571-6070.
Debbie Cafazzo: 253-597-8635