Changes and challenges revamp classic musical


Nicole Hunter

Junior Francesca Capizzi dances on the table on Thursday, Oct. 19. Capizzi plays the lead role of Sandy Dumbrowski. “Grease: School Version” will be performed Nov. 3, 4, and 5.

Under the heat of the bright spotlights, senior Joey Ishak, dressed in a vintage leather jacket, moves across the stage toward junior Francesca Capizzi, who is sporting a classic 50s-style dress. Dozens of classmates watch in anticipation as the famous music swells. Ishak tries to calm his nerves before he sings his solo, while Capizzi runs through  dance steps in her head. For both of the students, this is their first time as leads in a JC production, and they do not want to disappoint.

This year, Director and Choreographer Kim Brueggemann and Assistant Director Larry Hensley chose Ishak and Capizzi to play the respective roles of Danny Zuko and Sandy Dumbrowski, despite the fact that neither of them has ever been cast as a major lead in a JC production.

“When we conduct auditions, we keep an open mind and an open slate … because you never know which students are going to give an example on the stage of the best fit for the puzzle we have to put together. It truly isn’t a matter of knowing someone did a really great job in a role last year or the year before. It really truly comes down to the audition day and the callback,” Brueggemann said.

Capizzi, a transfer student from Notre Dame Preparatory school, had no idea she would get the part, considering she had never participated in past performances like other cast members.

“It was pretty surprising because I know a lot of the time theaters already have an idea of who they want, so it was a very pleasant surprise. I wasn’t expecting much. I was just expecting to meet a new group of people and get my foot in the door, I guess, and it ended up working out for the best,” she said.

Similarly, Ishak understood  her feeling of shock, but was grateful that he could finish off his last year of high school in a lead role. “It is my senior year, and it is really exciting to be the lead because it is like being the quarterback of the football team. You’re the star. It is kind of a big deal, and I had no idea I was going to get the role,” he said.

According to Brueggemann, “Grease: School Version” was chosen as the fall musical because of its familiarity. “Everyone knows the show. It is a crowd pleaser … so that is one reason why we selected it this time – to get the school energized and get the students fired up about a show that has to do with their genre,” she said.

Brueggemann says the musical, which will be performed on Nov. 3, 4, and 5, will be something students can relate to because the cast shares similar experiences with their characters. “It is high school portraying high school in the 50s,” she said.  

Nicole Hunter
Senior Joey Ishak rehearses with junior Josh Robinson after school. Ishak portrays Danny Zuko alongside Robinson’s character, Kenickie.

However, she does acknowledge that there are some challenges that come along with the classic. Due to the play being a censored version, many aspects have been replaced or cut out altogether. In the original, Betty Rizzo has a pregnancy scare that progresses throughout the plot, but this has been removed from the show completely. Also, any references to cigarettes or drinking are not a part of the student version.

“The production company rewrote the script so it is appropriate for all ages,” Brueggemann said. Along with the changes to the plot, both Capizzi and Ishak agree that they have had to overcome personal challenges as well. Being first-time leads can be intimidating, and they are required to face obstacles they are not accustomed to.

Capizzi says her biggest challenge with the show is the choreography. “I’m not a strong dancer, I’ve never had dance lessons or anything, so that is really difficult. The choreography, here, it’s not super advanced and I can still do it, but it takes longer for me to pick it up than other people, but everyone is really helpful,” she said.

On the other hand, Ishak is comfortable with his dancing skills. Instead, he struggles with the vocals. “For me, it is [challenging] when I’m singing and all eyes are on me because I’m not that great of a singer, but when I’m by myself [on stage] it is a lot more pressure, so I’m afraid it will take over, but hopefully I’ll do okay. Dancing, I’m not as worried about because it is in a group. Singing, it is just you,” he said.

In addition to an altered script, new cast members, and the difficulties that come with these adjustments, the musical differs from other previous shows with the importance of minor characters. According to Ishak, there are several more roles for non-leads to fill, and those characters have more dialogue than usual. The scenes come to life with the presence of a large cast, compared to past performances which focused on a smaller number of leads.

Another major change is that the orchestra will not reside in the pit at the front of the stage. Instead, there will be a band performing on stage, which will simultaneously play the part of the live band during the famous school-dance scene.

All of these alterations to the show could cause some complications if not handled properly, so the production staff plans to use the last two weeks of rehearsals to pull everything together. 

Nicole Hunter
(From left to right) Senior Zach Vest, junior Rachel Miller, senior Joey Ishak, senior Ella Wilson, junior Josh Robinson, and freshman Ryan Vest practice choreography during rehearsal.

“The vocals have to be powerful and on their game without the assistance of a CD. We drill the choreography. Mr. Hensley and I just run things into the ground to make sure they’re polished. Then, we incorporate set changes, light and sound cues, and orchestration,” Brueggemann said.

However, Ishak has complete faith that the show will run smoothly and be nothing short of spectacular. “I think [the show will be successful] because everyone has good chemistry, the dance numbers are Broadway quality, and the set pieces are visually stunning,” Ishak said.

Alyssa Kraus is the co-Editor in Chief of The Patriot and