COAL CITY — What teenager can’t relate to the T-Birds and the Pink Ladies?
The two high school cliques, famed in the film and numerous stage incarnations of the musical “Grease,” deal with the stuff teenagers of every generation have dealt with: peer pressure, searching for an identity, and coming of age tops among them.
It should be no surprise, then, that the student actors who comprise Coal City High School’s production of the nostalgia-fueled classic don’t have much trouble seeing a little piece of themselves in the characters they play.
“It’s a timeless story,” said Jack Micetich, director and teacher at Coal City Middle School. “It’s something they can definitely relate to.”
Junior Carlos Shoemaker, who plays the greaser Roger, said the endless joking around the T-Birds do isn’t all that different than what he does with his friends.
“I’m friends with the guys who play the T-Birds,” Shoemaker said. “So it doesn’t feel much different than hanging out with them normally. It’s easy to get into character.”
Junior Morgan Leopold, who plays the lead Sandy, said she has developed a deeper understanding of the issues faced by her character.
“It’s more relatable to me now as a teenager than it was when I saw the movie as a kid,” Leopold said. “I think Sandy is very innocent, but she also has some attitude. She can definitely stand up for herself.”
“Grease” mines the teenage experience almost as much as it mines Americana, the shyness and posturing as aesthetically present as the blue jeans and fast cars.
Micetich, who is in his first year teaching in the district, was granted the opportunity to direct the high school production after previously heading middle school plays. He decided to go with “Grease” because it was the first show he did back when he was in high school.
“It’s a fan favorite,” he said.
Bringing it to life, according to Micetich and numerous cast members, was a challenging but ultimately rewarding process.
Beginning in the second week of January, the production moved at a grueling clip that required long hours and maximum dedication from all involved.
“It’s been crazy,” said junior Andrew Elledge, who plays the male lead Danny. “It’s been very fast-paced.”
But a sense of community among the cast has made it all work.
“We have some really great actors here and they’ve done a great job,” Micetich said.
“The cast gets along really well and it shows,” Leopold added.
Watching the T-Birds and Pink Ladies navigate their 1950s high school experience, their interactions seem very natural.
During one of the most famous scenes, Danny tells his friends — leather-jacketed and supine on the front steps of the school — about the girl he met that summer. Meanwhile, in the cafeteria, good-girl Sandy tells her new sharp-witted crew about the guy she met.
When finally Danny and Sandy reconnect, they embrace but then catch themselves.
“Oh, hey,” Danny says, keeping cool in front of his jittering friends. “How ya doin’?”
There’s a truth to the scene, as anyone who has gone through high school knows. And it’s played by the actors with knowing subtlety.
Elledge’s Danny is a cool guy with a soft side he keeps hidden under a leather jacket and a sarcastic humor. Leopold’s Sandy is outwardly shy, but with a secret well of confidence and a sharp sense of direction.
This is the biggest role Elledge has played so far and was stunned to get the lead.
“I was surprised and excited,” he said.
“It was crazy,” said Leopold of landing the female lead. “I wasn’t expecting it, but I was ecstatic, obviously.”
“I love getting the opportunity to play such an iconic role.”
Such a famous musical brings with it expectations, and the cast lives up to them, bringing believability to characters who hope a new car will make them cooler, humor to a wildly unprofessional ear piercing, and strong voices to familiar songs like “Greased Lightnin’” and “Summer Nights.”
“I know a lot of people will be expecting to see some little high school show,” Elledge said. “But I think they’ll be surprised by how big this production is.”
There are large sets, a full band for the musical numbers, and a real car to be used during “Greased Lightnin’.”
But what really carries this musical is well-drawn characters grounded in reality.
Junior Olivia Kosch, who plays the bored Rizzo, said her character is just an average high school student who faces the same difficulties anyone else faces.
“It makes high school seem fun,” Kosch said. “There are down moments in high school, but there are also good ones.”
“It’s just ‘Grease,’” she said of the production. “There’s really nothing else you need to say.”