Playhouse kicks off new season with familiar classic
— Created September 7, 2022 by Kathy Reed
By Kathy Reed
The Whidbey Playhouse in Oak Harbor has a gift for the community that is sure to lift spirits, prompt laughs and promote some serious toe-tapping.
Its production of the classic musical, “Grease,” by Jim Jacobs and Warren Casey, opens Friday and runs through Oct. 2. Under the direction of Eric George and Allenda Jenkins, this will be the Playhouse’s first musical production since the pandemic, and cast and crew feel this is the perfect way to kick off the new season.
“There was an excitement amongst everyone on the [play selection] committee when ‘Grease’ was mentioned,” George said. “We wanted a show that would attract people, had name recognition, and ‘Grease’ was the perfect show to open with for our new season after coming out of the pandemic.”
This is also the 50th anniversary year of the original stage production of “Grease,” but audiences who love the 1978 film starring John Travolta and the late Olivia Newton-John (to whom the production is dedicated) will not be disappointed. There are several songs featured from the stage production but there is a good mix to satisfy fans of the film and stage versions alike.
“We tried to be as faithful as we could with nods to the movie, but bring our own ideas to this production,” said George. “I don’t want to give them all away, but I can confirm that you will see costumes, choreography, dialogue from the movie, but also some new stuff that you haven’t seen before. This cast is amazing and have dedicated themselves to making these characters we love so much come alive.”
Audiences will find a production that is well cast, well costumed and well choreographed. The music, as in both film and stage versions, is infectious. It is clear the cast members are enjoying themselves, which only adds to the overall sense of fun and there are several stand-out performances. The set is colorful as well as functional, and the use of technology adds to the overall staging.
Perhaps the best prop is one of the main stars of the show – the convertible known as “Greased Lightning,” which has been cleverly engineered for the production, according to George.
“Trying to come up with a design, how that design would fit on the stage, and be able to move, spin, and store it backstage [was challenging],” he said. “Luckily, our set builder, Bobby Hendrix, came up with an idea for a car that would be able to do all the things we needed it to do, and it looks really cool.”
As to whether cast and crew have a preference between the stage or screen version, responses received via email by Whidbey Weekly were split fairly evenly. And when asked whether it was intimidating to tackle such an iconic production, responses also varied. Some cast members said they felt the pressure, but haven’t let that stand in the way of making their characters their own.
“I was thrilled to be cast as Sandy — she’s a character that I really relate to, so it’s exciting to have her be my first role in such a long time,” said Karina Andrew, who is making her debut with the Whidbey Playhouse. “But the movie is so well-known that Sandy is pretty much synonymous with Olivia Newton-John, to the point that when I told people I was going to be in the show, I had several people ask me if I was going to play ‘Olivia.’ She was such a lovely and talented person, and so loved as Sandy, and I really want to honor and pay tribute to her with my performance.”
“There are the ‘stereotypical’ ideas about each character but it’s fun to add our own bit of flair,” said Playhouse “regular” Andrew Huggins, who plays Roger and Teen Angel in the show. He was also made honorary co-musical director for all his time and effort helping with vocals and dance numbers.
“For playing Roger, as the ‘oldest teenager in the show’ (48-year-old playing an 18 -year-old), [it’s been fun] being able to portray those teenage qualities that are completely opposite of what I was like as a teen,” he said. “I’ve always loved ‘Beauty School Dropout,’ so singing that song as the Teen Angel was a dream come true.”
“Since it’s so well-known, people are gonna have their own expectations and idea of how the show will go,” said Marianne Campos, who plays Frenchy. “Being able to play Frenchy allows me to tap into my ditzy side with the added cute factor. And the pink wig is an added bonus for sure!”
The cast is a good mix of familiar faces as well as those who are new to the Playhouse.
“This is my first play with the Playhouse,” said Sara Hampton, who plays the role of Betty Rizzo. She said she’s wanted to be in a production of “Grease” since she was the choreographer for her high school production of the musical.
“It was a bit intimidating at first,” she shared. “It has been a challenge and a journey for me, but I have enjoyed the process. I have given this role my all! Rizzo is a fun role to play and it’s an honor to be able to take on this character and bring her sass to our production of ‘Grease.’ My favorite part of being Rizzo is performing ‘Look at me I’m Sandra Dee’ – I love that song! My cast mates get to have fun with me while I perform that one; it makes the whole song.”
It’s the first time Cory Gregerson has been on stage in a Playhouse production as well, taking on the role of Kenickie.
“At first it was very challenging to do a Kenickie with a Cory twist,” he said. “I couldn’t get over the fact that I’m a flamboyant gay man playing the part of what is basically toxic masculinity. Though the more I watched videos of other actors playing the same part, I noticed how flamboyant Kenickie is himself. Once I found that common ground between me and Kenickie it clicked.
“The most fun part of playing Kenickie is definitely getting to perform ‘Greased Lightning’ with all the T-birds,” Gregerson continued. “The song has been stuck in my head ever since I was practicing it before auditions. Anytime we get to sing the song and do the dance with all the T-birds on stage, I get an overwhelming sense of satisfaction.”
“This is actually my first speaking role in any production so the whole process was new to me,” said Jordon Spanovich, who plays Jan. “Jan is that goofy friend that rocks to the beat of her own drum but always wants her friends to laugh and get along. She’s a jokester that loves to eat, but most of all has the biggest crush on Roger. Andrew Huggins plays the role of Roger and I am just so grateful to have him as my partner. He’s helped make this first experience with the Playhouse so fun and enjoyable. Jan and Roger will make you laugh and satisfy your sweet tooth at the same time and have the best time doing it!”
Erin Tombaugh, who plays Marty, said she’s enjoyed creating a character who has had a different high school experience than her own.
“Some roles actors take on play into their own personality and experience, while other roles allow us to dive into a character who is a complete escape from our own reality,” she explained. “Playing Marty is the latter for me because she’s silly and flirty, with a long list of boyfriends and a desire to be seen as older than she is. That was not my focus or experience in high school, so it has been fun to explore her characteristics and play around with being a flirt.”
“There have been so many things about Doody I’ve enjoyed that it’s hard to pick one,” said Eclipse Garrett. “I really like his rock and roll aesthetic that he’s got with the way he talks and sings. I’ve had fun just getting to portray a silly little 17-year-old that doesn’t know how to compliment his ‘steady.’ I’ve decided to let him adopt some extra gung-ho inclinations and awkwardness. He’s definitely one of the T-birds and deserves that stature, but some of the things he does earn him serious side-eyes from his peers.”
Of course, not all the characters in the show can be a member of the Pink Ladies or the T-birds, but they are just as fun.
“Eugene’s your stereotypical hardcore high school nerd taken to the extreme,” said James Burke of his character. “It’s fun to be playing him though, because he’s so different from everyone else. I get to just really have fun and do whatever I want with the character. Sure, I may not get to be a part of the T-birds or whatever, but I am the valedictorian of Rydell High.”
For some of the cast, their reasons for participating in the show are very personal.
“When I was younger, I told my mom that if ‘Grease’ ever came to the Whidbey Playhouse I was going to audition,” said Jamie Polubinski, who plays Blanche. “A couple of years ago she said to me, ‘Are you still going to audition for ‘Grease?’ I said yes. My mom passed away in July of 2021 and so when I saw auditions for ‘Grease’ I decided to keep my word to my mom. I am also turning 50, so I figured ‘What a fun thing to do.’ This is why I auditioned and am doing it in my mom’s memory.”
“The cast and crew have poured our hearts into the show and into each of our characters,” said Dany Stahl, who plays Sonny. “I think when this is over, we’re all going to miss not only our cast mates but the characters we play as well. I feel like Sonny is a part of me now.”
“Grease” opens Friday and will run through Oct. 2 at the Whidbey Playhouse, 730 SE Midway Blvd. in Oak Harbor. Show times are at 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday and 2:30 p.m. on Sunday. Purchase tickets and find more information at whidbeyplayhouse.com.
“This show has been a labor of love for everyone involved,” said Andrew. “All the actors have made a tremendous effort to really understand and develop their roles and to give a performance that brings something new to the character while still staying true to the original. It’s the perfect blend of new and nostalgic, and I think audiences will really enjoy that.”
“It’s a great show and it marks the start of the 2022-23 season of love at the Whidbey Playhouse,” said Tony Pooler, who plays Vince Fontaine. “The cast and crew have worked very hard to create something worth watching.”
“I mean, it’s ‘Grease,” said Roland Garrett, who is part of the student ensemble. “Everyone is going to love it! I think people will enjoy the classic songs from the movie and the amazing choreography we’re bringing to the stage. Grease is the word!”
“Allenda and I set out to bring a production that was special, true to the original source material and paid respect to the movie that is so beloved,” said George. “We can’t wait to share our vision with the community and we hope they will embrace the show and just have a great time.”