Backstage: Lyric Theater presents Grease

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(Host) The word is: Burlington’s Lyric Theater is celebrating its thirtieth anniversary with the Pink Ladies and the Burger Palace Boys. VPR’s Neal Charnoff goes “Backstage” with “Grease.”

(Charnoff) Although the musical Grease was written in 1972, the music now seems as familiar as the fifties classics it emulates.

(Singing) “We go together like…”

(Charnoff) Grease tells the stories of the Pink Ladies and the Burger Palace Boys, every-students in a 1950’s high school. Their routine is disrupted with the arrival of the clean-cut Sandy Dumbrowski, whose romance with Burger Palace Boy Danny Zucco upsets the school hierarchy.

Grease was originally staged as a five-hour amateur production in a Chicago trolley barn. With its irresistible mix of adolescent angst and 50’s pop culture, Grease had a record-breaking run on Broadway and became a hit film in 1978.

Co-creators Jim Jacobs and Warren Casey said the show was their reaction against the traditional show tune melodies of the Great White Way.

Lyric Theater’s Music Director is Craig Hilliard of Winooski. He calls this an “authentic original production,” meaning several songs written specifically for the movie are not included. Hilliard says the music written for the original stage version is more authentic to the period.

(Hilliard) “I think basically it’s the simplicity. Maybe it’s because I grew up in the tail end of the period that it really speaks to me. There’s something about that four-chord progression that’s throughout this whole show that just really gets to your soul.”

(Charnoff) Grease is being directed by Cindy Zuck of Burlington. She warns that the show is not necessarily for the whole family. Zuck says that in today’s world, the play’s adult themes might earn it a PG-13 rating.

(Zuck) “We have girls that are deciding how far they’re going to go sexually with their boyfriends. We have boys that are kind of struggling with their manhood – do they want to be their own man, or do they want to still be what their guy pals need them to be? We do deal with an out-of-wedlock pregnancy, but these are real themes. Absolutely real themes. Set to fabulous fifties music.”

(Charnoff) Director Cindy Zuck says that ultimately, the characters in Grease are familiar archetypes, found not only in Shakespeare’s plays but in contemporary television shows like Melrose Place and The O.C.

(Zuck) “I keep putting Shakespeare in the same sentence as Grease and everyone laughs at me, but quite frankly the archetypes are just the same archetypes as we’ve always had. We have the funny class clown. We have the beautiful new girl. We have the bad girl. We have the hero. We have the guy that tries to turn it all upside down and get everyone into trouble – the villain, so to speak. And we have all of the kings and queens, the authority figures trying to tell these kids what to do.”

(Charnoff) Serena Magnon of Shelburne plays Pink Lady Betty Rizzo. Magnon says that while the “rama-lama-lama’s” and “shoo-bop-shoo-bop’s” may be unique to the fifties, their meaning is universal.

(Rizzo) “Within the show it’s kind of our language for having fun, loving each other, in nice clean language form, which I think in today’s high school you might not find. But yeah, it’s our language of love.”

(Charnoff) For VPR Backstage, I’m Neal Charnoff in Burlington.

(Host) Grease will be performed at the Flynn Center in Burlington through November 14.

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