If you go …
What: “Grease” performed by the Meeker High School Drama Club
When: 7 p.m. April 22 and 23
Where: Meeker High School auditorium, 550 School St., Meeker
• Admission for the show is $7 for adults and $5 for students and seniors. For more information, call 878-9070.
Meeker As tunes like “Summer Nights,” “Beauty School Dropout” and “We Go Together” reverberate along the walls of the Meeker High School auditorium, some listeners may be taken back a few decades.
Gary Zellers’ trip down memory lane only goes back to 2006, leaving him to reflect on how much he has learned in the past five years.
The Meeker High School Drama Club and its director are sharpening those tunes and others for their upcoming performance of the 1950s-themed musical “Grease,” scheduled for April 22 and 23.
Telling the story of Rydell High students Danny and Sandy and their friends the Pink Ladies and the T-Birds, the show captures the rock and roll spirit of the 1950s and the youth culture of the time.
Since its 1971 debut, the show has been one of the most successful in theater history, with hundreds of performances on Broadway, multiple revivals and national tours, and a 1978 film adaptation staring John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John.
“It’s a high school standard,” Zellers said.
Zellers said the decision to stage “Grease” came down to a choice between that and selections like Rodgers and Hammerstein’s “South Pacific” and the newer “Just Another High School Musical,” a play that, like “Grease,” encapsulates the teenage experience.
Zellers said the latter show — not to be confused with Disney’s “High School Musical” movies — is a story about high school students whose irresponsibility on the stage annoys their director into quitting, leaving them to pull everything together at the last minute, a process not uncommon in theater.
“It comes down to the ‘do or die’ moment,” he said.
Although the experience has been occasionally chaotic, Zellers has not once been tempted to walk out on his own show since rehearsals began in January.
He said the dedication of his students has made it a much easier process, in addition to the fact that he directed “Grease” in 2006.
“I wouldn’t have done it this time if I hadn’t had a new group of kids,” he said. “Some of them aren’t as used to being on stage as the ones who were in the show the first time I did it.”
Zellers added that, ironically, the cast’s dissimilarity to the show’s characters, many of whom have a rebellious nature, helps them focus on directions.
“The kids here don’t thumb their noses at authority,” he said.
Zellers described his cast as “a comedic bunch,” and jokingly referred to himself as “head kitten-wrangler” in making sure all the students can get a handle on themselves.
“They like to make people laugh, sometimes to a fault,” he said.
Sophomore Lathrop Hughes plays Sonny, a member of the T-Birds, whom he described as a “lady-chaser.”
“That’s not really me in real life, I’m much more timid,” Hughes said. “I really enjoy being onstage and just getting to be someone else for one or two hours. It’s a fun bunch of people, and I love them to death. Gary really gets things done.”
Zellers said his first stint directing “Grease” readied him for the challenges in music, stage blocking and every other aspect of the show.
“I’m much more familiar with it now, and I’ve done more research and known what kind of questions to ask,” he said.
The biggest challenge has been constructing the show’s famous car, Greased Lightning, which Zellers wants to improve upon from his previous show.
“Last time, we used insulation board to make it and the audience had a three-quarters view,” he said. “This time, I want to do the full car.”
Zellers also wants to be more prepared when the show opens Friday.
“Last time, we hadn’t even had a full run-through,” he said. “If there’s one thing I’ve learned, it’s that come production night, the kids always pull it off.”
Zellers, a respiratory therapist at Pioneers Medical Center, first began with the Drama Club in 2003, helping behind the scenes with “The Music Man” and working on “Seven Brides for Seven Brothers” the following year. Both shows were directed by his sister-in-law, Kathryn Seely.
“When she moved away, I kind of got her job by proxy,” he said. “I had hardly any experience. When I was a kid, my parents got me interested in dinner theater and things like that, but I’m still building my repertoire.”
His first show as director was “Guys and Dolls” in 2005. He also oversaw the drama club’s 2010 production of “Little Shop of Horrors.”
Likewise, Zellers’ wife, Laurie, who also serves as stage manager for “Grease,” staged “Annie, Jr.” — an abridged version of “Annie” for younger children — in November 2010.
Freshman Mariah Jensen, who plays Jan in “Grease,” portrayed Lily in “Annie, Jr.”
“I love acting, I think I might want to go to college for it,” Jensen said. “Gary’s been a really good director. I know this will be a good show.”
Zeller said the turnout from Meeker residents is always strong.
“It was a nearly packed house last year (for ‘Annie, Jr.’),” he said. “The community here really tends to support the arts.”
The Zellers are also planning to stage a one-act play about master detective Sherlock Holmes later in the year.
“I think no matter what we perform, people will turn out,” he said. “It’s an inexpensive night out, and they really like it.”
Junior Collin Cochran, who plays Danny in “Grease”, said he has learned a lot from his fellow cast members and director, particularly in giving the best possible show.
“I’ve learned that you can’t hold back,” he said. “You’ve got to give it your all and just see what comes out.”
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