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‘Grease’ is the word at DLHS

Dillon Spurlin (Danny), center, slugs fellow T-Bird member Austin Webber (Kenickie), right, after the guys rib Danny for joining track to impress Sandy. Leather-clad T-Bird members Dalton VonRuden (Sonny), left, and Mason Wentz (Doody) watch. DL NEWSPAPERS/Brian Basham1 / 3
Missy Larson (Sandy), left, and Kalley Waller (Frenchy) engage in some girl talk during a scene in ‘Grease,’ which the Detroit Lakes High School students will perform March 20-22. DL NEWSPAPERS/Brian Basham2 / 3
Pink Ladies, from left, McKenzie Mann (Marty), Emilee Freeman (Jan) and Kalley Waller (Frenchy) react to Missy Larson (Sandy) and her story. DL NEWSPAPERS/Brian Basham3 / 3

It’s a classic that pretty much everyone has seen, and the Detroit Lakes High School students are putting their own spin on things while keeping the nostalgia of “Grease.”

March 20-22, the Detroit Lakes Middle School stage will come alive with “Grease Lightening,” “You’re the One that I Love,” “Summer Lovin’” and all the other classic tunes that John Travolta and Olivia Newton John once belted out.

Driving force behind the production

“It was the cast’s idea. ‘Grease’ is fun,” McKenzie Mann (Marty) said.

Director Mark Everson said when the high schoolers approached him about doing the musical, he agreed to direct it, but they had to get approval to do the production.

Usually the spring play isn’t a musical because they are more time consuming and interfere with spring sports, but since the production has been pushed up because of other events and Easter, the school board approved the request.

“Typically we only do one musical a year, but this cohort of kids is really musically talented,” Everson said.

So he agreed to direct, but they needed to do the legwork.

“They hunted down everyone they knew and pulled it off,” he said with a laugh.

“This fall, we were like, ‘how fun would it be to do ‘Grease,’” Emilee Freeman (Jan) said.

Dillon Spurlin (Danny) said during their last production together, the guys were messing around with accents and making up names for each other. It stuck and the boys were on board.

Pressure to perfect a classic

Since ‘Grease’ is one show — or at least soundtrack — that most anyone knows, the cast said there’s more pressure to get it right. As does the director.

Everson has been surrounded by ‘Grease’ all his life. Not only did he act in it in the past, he’s also directed it before. And his uncle starred in the original Broadway production.

So because it’s been such a big part of Everson’s life, he almost shied away from being a part of it again.

“In a way, I never wanted to do it because of that,” he said of the pressure to get it perfect.

There will be some parts that people aren’t as aware of though, too. This production is not the movie version or the Broadway version, but rather a mix of the two.

“We’re making it our own version of ‘Grease,’” Mann said.

“We have our own twist,” Kalley Waller (Frenchy) said.

The popular, well-known songs will all be in the production, and two big dance numbers — which are choreographed by Grace Lindquist — and “the iconic moves,” Austin Webber (Kenickie) said.

“The kids have worked unbelievably hard for that,” Everson said.

“Everyone has seen it,” Alexa Anderson (Rizzo) said is the main reason people should come out and see the production.

“You can reminisce about it,” Mann agreed. “It’s entertaining.”

The perfect characters

“She’s different from the other girls, classy but one of the gang,” Mann describes her character and herself.

“I feel I’m Sandy. I can relate,” Missy Larson (Sandy) said.

Many of the actors say they are very similar to the characters they are portraying. And because they were all friends before the production, practice and performance are going quite smoothly.     

“It’s more fun and not awkward,” Mann said of all the friends performing together.

Many of the cast members said their favorite part is getting to work with each other since they are friends outside of the production as well.

“’We Go Together’ is pretty organic,” Everson said of when his cast performs the famous song.

Waller said the characters each actor happened to get — not necessarily the ones they auditioned for — really match the actors’ personalities.

“That’s exactly how we are,” she said of the friendships. “Now we’re just putting it on stage for everyone to see.”

“All the greasers and Pink Ladies are turning into one big family,” Freeman said.

Mason Wentz (Doody) said his favorite part of being a part of the production is “being a part of the T-Bird gang. We’ve got the swagger.”

“I like the accents,” Jacob Kempenich (Roger) said, which all the guys agreed.

Waller said her favorite part of the production is actually a piece of clothing.

“I really like my jacket and getting to spend time with my closest friends,” she said of her bright pink Pink Ladies jacket.

“Getting to sing ‘Grease Lightening,’” Webber said is his favorite part. In the original production, it isn’t Webber’s character, Kenickie, who sings the song, but in the high school production, he will be. Webber said it’s his character’s car anyway, so it makes more sense for him to be singing the song.

Everson said the car is being shipped in from Michigan.

“You can’t do ‘Grease’ without the car,” he said with a laugh.

A little PG rating

Though the kids will be smoking prop cigarettes, the performance still plays up tobacco usage.

 In one scene, Rizzo thinks she’s pregnant, and the characters have to deal with that situation.

Everson said they “take that scene very seriously” and handle it with care.

There is “high school adult humor” throughout as well.

He said that they don’t cross any lines, but audience members do need to know that there are some adult topics in the show. He said it’s hard to stray too far from the gang persona and make it a true performance.

The actors said it’s easier to play these characters than ones they have done in the past because they are the same ages and can relate to the topics.

Boyfriends and girlfriends, love, possible pregnancy, fighting, etc. are all topics that many high schoolers are going through.

And though there may be some serous topics, the overall of the production is a good time.

“Our goal is to just have a good time. I told them, if it becomes a job, we’re not doing it,” Everson said.

And having fun they are.

“This is the best part of my day by far,” he said.

The performances are March 20-22 in the Detroit Lakes Middle School auditorium. Tickets are on sale at Central Market.

Follow Pippi Mayfield on Twitter at @PippiMayfield.