‘Grease’ goes back to the ’50s for spring musical

If you’ve been seeing boys walking around town in black-leather jackets and rolled up jeans and girls in poodle skirts and white ankle socks, no, that’s not some hip Homer retro look flashing back to the 1950s.

To get in character and wear clothes that might be unfamiliar to 21st century teenagers, the cast and chorus of “Grease,” this spring’s Homer High School musical, have been trying out some of the costumes for the show, opening Friday night at the Mariner Theatre. Learning to move in 50-year-old fashions can be a challenge, especially for girls who don’t wear dresses, said choir director Kyle Schneider.

“Not only is it good for them, it’s good publicity for the show,” he said.

On Sunday, the cast and musicians worked through the show in a grueling afternoon rehearsal. Schneider, who started at Homer High School last fall after four years in Seward, showed he is a taskmaster, pushing them through six or seven times to get one entrance right.

For a big dance number at the start of Act Two, “Shakin’ At the High School Hop,” the main cast and supporting chorus of about 40 first had to learn the dance steps. Choreographer Jill Berryman showed them how to dance like an Egyptian and, well, how to shake it. The dancers also had to work out their entrance, coming in from the back of the theater.

“Shake!” Berryman shouted to prompt them on the shifting steps. “Egyptian!”

On stage, Schneider clapped the beat. He wasn’t some stiff orchestra maestro, though. Not everyone quite got the moves down right, but if they needed some inspiration, all they had to do was look up on stage and watch their director waving his arms and moving his legs.

“It’s just feel-good music,” Schneider said “It’s just such high energy music, you can’t hold back.”

Written by Jim Jacobs and Warren Casey, “Grease” had its first off-Broadway performance in 1971. It later became popular with the movie version in 1978 starring John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John, rewritten from the musical to showcase Newton-John.

The musical has more songs than the movie, Schneider noted.

“If you’ve seen the movie, you haven’t seen the musical,” he said.

“Grease” has a classic plot: boy meets girl. Its two lead characters, Danny, played by Joseph Cardoza, and Sandy, played in alternating performances by Hope Hudson and Adella Sundmark, appear to be opposites. Danny is part of the T-Birds, rebellious greasers, while Sandy is sweet and demure. The greasers’ counterparts are the Pink Ladies, hip-swinging, gum-chewing wild girls.

The greasers and pink ladies of “Grease” were the outsiders of the time, Schneider said.

“They were on the outskirts,” he said. “They weren’t the in crowd.”

To better understand and develop their characters, Schneider talked about the 1950s and asked the students to research the cliques of the time. Who would they be if they had gone to school in 1959?

“I had a group of kids who said, ‘This is how I would be. I’d be a Beatnik,” Schneider said.

Schneider also asked the cast members to think about what it meant to be a teenager 50 years ago and how that differed from living in the 21st century.

“They got really adept at figuring out what they can and can’t do as a character and learning how to blur those lines a little bit,” he said.

While this is his first musical at Homer High, Schneider has directed musicals elsewhere, and brings a theater and opera background. Born and raised in Chicago, his high school didn’t have a choir program. Instead, he studied theater. He first learned music playing the clarinet in band and sang in choir at church. Schneider got a bachelor of music education at Illinois State University, Normal. He taught a year in Illinois before moving to Alaska and teaching all grades in Seward, including band and choir. He also was director of the community band and community choir.

Moving to Homer fit him, Schneider said.

“The prevalence of the arts and how involved everyone is in the arts is definitely a huge boon to me as a person,” he said. “To move into such a well established, well supported music program, I couldn’t have asked for more.”

Schneider also brings empathy with his students as performers. Each summer for the past few years he has attended the Midwest Institute of Opera, where he sings bass-baritone in whatever role he gets.

“It turns into an opera vacation,” he said. “I get to bring all that information back from that experience and share it with the kids.”

Putting on a big musical, working together to create a bit of Broadway magic, also is the message of “Grease”

“The story of the show and the message of the show is the music,” Schneider said. “It’s not supposed to have some grand huge message aside from ‘these are the decisions we face in high school and these are the decisions we might face.’ It’s important to rely on the people around you for the support you might need.”

As with last summer’s Pier One Theatre production of “Next to Normal,” Homer High’s “Grease!” has a pit band, with student musicians Justice Sky on bass guitar, Jonathan Sharp on tenor sax and Patrick Latimer on tenor sax. Also in the band are JulieAnn Smith on keyboards and Hal Spence and Robert Hockema on guitar.

Michael Armstrong can be reached at


Tags: ,