Duck tails, hot rods and "Greased Lightening" come to the Gallo Center for the Arts stage this weekend and next as Modesto Performing Arts gets into the Graffiti Summer spirit.
The local theater company opens its 51st season with the rollicking musical "Grease," an ode to the 1950s rock 'n' roll, bobby socks and summer love. The show runs June 16-24 at the Gallo Center in downtown Modesto.
"All the dance numbers, everything, are just high-energy," said Paul Tischer, founder and general director of MPA. "The cast is exhausted when they are done with some of it. Even the acting is high-energy, there's no question about that, but that's what makes the show work."
Most people know the story behind the musical, thanks to the hugely popular 1978 film "Grease" starring John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John. The movie does stray from the stage version that MPA will present — but the bones remain: Street-tough teen Danny Zuko meets straight-laced Sandy Dumbronski over the summer and they have a secret romance. When Sandy shows up at Rydell High when school returns, he has to decide whether his image is more important than his love for Sandy.
The musical's best-known songs, "Greased Lightning," "We Go Together" and "Summer Nights" and others, are part of the MPA production, which is being directed by Tischer. Debbie Holtzclaw handles the 1950s choreography with John Armes directing the music.
The production fits perfectly with the June celebration of Graffiti Summer in Modesto, the annual homage to cars, poodle skirts and another popular nostalgia film, "American Graffiti" by native son George Lucas.
"We always do a show in June, and it so happens that the week we schedule a show every year falls during Graffiti Week," Tischer said, adding this is the first time MPA has produced a show that reflects the monthlong Modesto celebration. "This is the first time, and we just thought it tied in perfectly ... get everyone in the mood."
The Broadway production debuted in 1972 and ran eight years with a book, music and lyrics by Jim Jacobs and Warren Casey. Audiences only familiar with the Travolta/Newton-John film will find the stage version slightly different, Tischer said.
"I wasn't exactly familiar with the show when I'd chosen it, and it was, well, colorful. We should warn audiences that there may be some objectionable 1950s teenage slang they need to be aware of," he said.
Jacob Holdaway stars as Danny for MPA, with Isabella Marseline as Sandy. Pablo Hernandez will play Danny's best friend Kenickie and Ambrosia Lobo is Rizzo. Others in the cast include Mitchel Welsh, Michael Massone, Wesley Vasquez, Sarah Wilson, Abigail Kitsch and Bailey Vasquez.
Because the actors who are portraying the 1950s teens were mostly born in the late 1990s or early 2000s, there was, understandably, a learning curve involved.
"It took them a while to get into the mood of the show because, obviously, none of them know what the 1950s was (like)," Tischer said. "Most of my cast is in their late teens and 20s. That's 50 years away from the show they're trying to portray, all the choreography of the period. But once they got into it, they are having more fun doing (numbers like) the hand jive and all the things that are part of 1950s dance. It's been great."
"Grease" will be the first show for the 2018 Modesto Performing Arts season. Next up will be "Jekyll & Hyde The Musical" from Aug. 12-19, followed by the holiday production "It's a Wonderful Life," running Nov. 23-25.
WHEN: 7:30 p.m. Saturday, June 16 and Friday-Saturday, June 22-23; 2 p.m. Sunday, June 17, and Sunday, June 24
WHERE: Gallo Center for the Arts, 1000 I St., Modesto