AFTER another name change, NETheatre York begins a new term at Rydell High with a cast of 60 pupils enrolled for Grease The Musical from tomorrow to Saturday.
Formerly NE and before that NE Musicals York and several variations on a New Earswick theme, the company with the “New and Exciting” tag is spanning its scope.
“The reason why we wanted to change the name is because we want our company to be as diverse as possible and to cover as many things as possible, not just musicals, but plays and dance too,” says Steve. A case of NE theatre symbolising any form of theatre.
“Like taking part in the York Community Choir Festival at the Joseph Rowntree Theatre next year and performing at the York Proms in June, when we had our part in both sections on the main stage – and that’s the first time Rebecca [organiser Rebecca Fewtrell] has done that – as well as being on the community stage in the interval. We did selections from Oliver! in the first half and Les Miserables in the second.”
Amid the NamE changes, the company has shown consistency in its choice of production team for this week’s show at the JoRo. Once more, Steve Tearle is the creative director/producer – and cannot resist playing Teen Angel to boot – alongside musical director Scott Phillips and choreographer Ellie Roberts as audiences are transported back to all-American 1959 and the senior year at Rydell High.
After a whirlwind summer romance, Danny Zuko and Sandy Dumbrowski thought they would never see each other again but find themselves at the same high school as the T Birds and the Pink Ladies assemble for the new term.
Playing Danny and Sandy will be University of Hull student Finley Butler and Cleethorpes pantomime star Maia Beatrice (her stage name, shedding her surname of Stroud). “We know each other from doing the diploma in acting at York College six years ago, so we have a few shows together under our belt, like The Resistible Rise Of Arturo Ui Rise, and then last year I did The Wind In The Willows with this company, who I got to join because of Maia,” says Finley.
Maia, 22, from York, will be returning to TaleGate Theatre’s pantomime ranks this winter for Cinderella at the Parkway Cinema, Cleethorpes, playing Prince Charming after her title role in Pinocchio there last winter. “I get all the principal boy parts,” she says of pantomime’s traditional thigh-slapping role. Her thighs? “Very slappable!” she laughs.
For Grease, she was drawn to playing either Sandy or bad girl Rizzo. “I’m used to playing grittier characters that I can get my teeth into,” she says. “But I do feel I’m more of a Sandy with my blonde hair and blue eyes – and Sandy is the dream role.”
Steve chips in: “We’ve not made Sandy as sweet and innocent as she’s usually played.” Such as? “I take Rizzo down…to the floor,” says Maia.
Steve elaborates: “The musical is meatier than the film version, which they cleaned up a little. The original story was much grittier when it was first launched in Chicago, written for a bunch of teenagers. I haven’t gone back to that version, but we’ve kept the grittiness, and as part of that emphasis, the story of Rizzo and Kenickie runs side by side with Danny and Sandy’s.”
Finley, 22, has just graduated from the University of Hull with a degree in drama and theatre practice and will return there this autumn to study for a Masters in theatre making. “The course I’ve done is not just about the acting and drama side but there’s very much a focus on practice, so you can specialise in many different things, and towards the end my focus was on directing and lighting design,” he says.
“Throughout my time there, I directed shows, like doing a children’s theatre pieced called The Forest, where we had to use sign language and stage it in the round. On top of that, I’m now the president of the university’s performing arts society, a post which runs on into the next year as I do my Masters.”
Finley, by the way, will be Steve’s assistant director for NETheatre York’s upcoming production of Fiddler On The Roof when Steve will combine directing duties with playing the lead, the poor Jewish milkman Tevye.
This summer, Finley’s focus is on Danny Zuko and not least on the way he moves. “A lot of it I have taken from John Travolta, those Travolta-isms. Danny is very bold in his movement,” he says.
“But I also wanted to focus on the conflict within Danny, who has this core persona of not liking a particular girl above any other, but then Sandy comes along, and she’s like a thorn, getting under his skin. You find subtle ways to show that inner conflict through his movement as he’s so expressive.”
As for achieving the Danny Zuko look: “I’ve just received the all-important comb!” says Finley. “The styling takes a lot of gel and a lot of hairspray. I must have got through nearly a whole can for the photo-shoot.”
In the cast too will be Ali Butler Hind. “I’m playing the ballet teacher, part of the staff that oversee the pupils and do the scene changes in this production, which is a clever idea,” she says. “We’re there to support the head teacher, Miss Lynch, and I think our presence in this production really helps, especially in the dance contest scene.”
NETheatre York has paid the extra musical rights to be able to use Grease, You’re The One That I Want, Sandy and Hopelessly Devoted To You from the 1978 film. “They’re not normally in the musical but we really wanted to have them,” says Steve. Out go Drive In Movie, All Choked Up and It’s Raining On Prom Night.
“With songs like Hopelessly Devoted To You and There Are Worse Things (I Could Do), the text is incredible and says so much,” says musical director Scott Phillips. “They’re a good example of the how the songs pull the plot along and really show the character too, and that’s why Grease has stuck around down the years.”
From the keyboards, Scott will be leading a band featuring two tenor saxophones, two electric guitars, one bass guitar and drums. “The show verges on modern jazz in terms of its arrangements,” he says.
Scott has arranged a Grease Mega-Mix for a party mood to close the show. “We’re delighted to have been given permission to use it,” says Steve. “People will leave the theatre with that vibe.
“It’s all part of making it an experience to go to this show, whether it’s the glitter station at the theatre, the authentic Fifties’ costumes, or the mega-mix finale. You’ll know you’re at Rydell High from the moment you arrive, and we’ll be breaking down theatre’s fourth wall straightaway.
“We’ve even got a big neon Grease sign on stage in the shape of a car, made and delivered from China in only two weeks.””
NETheatre York in Grease The Musical, Joseph Rowntree Theatre, York, July 25 to 29, 7.30pm plus 2.30pm Saturday matinee. Tickets update: first night, sold out; last few tickets for all other shows. Box office: 01904 501935 or josephrowntreetheatre.co.uk
Who will be playing the principal roles in NETheatre York’s Grease The Musical?
Finley Butler as Danny Zuko; Maia Beatrice as Sandy Dumbrowski; Melisaa Boyd, Rizzo; Calum Davis, Kenickie; Flyn Coultous, Roger; Mo Kinnes, Jan; Mat Clarke, Doody; Juliette Brenot, Frenchy; Kristian Barley, Sonny, Erin Greeley, Marty, Sam Richardson, Eugene, and Chloe Drake, Patty.
Did you know?
LOOK out for Maia Beatrice at York Maze, Elvington, this summer, hosting a trailer ride, playing characters and being a mascot. If you spot Corn on the Cob or the back end of a cow, between now and September 4, that will be Maia.