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Southwest Orange Wednesday, Sep. 29, 2021 9 months ago

Hopelessly devoted

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Dr. Phillips High School’s theater program returns to the stage with the classic musical, ‘Grease.’
by: Jim Carchidi Former Associate Editor

The T-Birds and the Pink Ladies will escort Dr. Phillips High School’s theater magnet program back to normalcy with a production that was last presented with a famous alum.

Angelo Zizza plays Danny, and Larissa Polakiewicz portrays Sandy.

“Dr Phillips did ‘Grease’ back in 1992 with Mr. Joey Fatone as Danny,” Program Director Jason Whitehead said.

The rock ’n’ roll high school musical seemed like the perfect choice for a return to live audiences, after a tech-inspired pivot allowed for viewing at home. 

“Last year, we were able to do productions, but we had to do them virtually, so the kids did perform but we filmed them and we broadcast online,” said Whitehead. “This year, we wanted to pick something that we knew would celebrate theater and welcome people back. We didn’t want to hit them over the head too hard with any deep, symbolic messages, so we thought, ‘What’s a fun show? What’s a good time for everyone involved?’”

Audiences will need to mask up in compliance with the Orange County Public Schools mandate, but masks are optional for performers. Students and their families have been given the choice, so there may be a mix of masked and unmasked cast members. Cloth masks had to be used in last year’s virtual production, so the performers are used to wearing them. And the art of compensating for the sound-dampening accessory will remain useful when masks are no longer necessary.

“We are retraining our students to project more than they think they need to,” Whitehead said. “The face is the most expressive part of the body so, when half of it is covered, how are you using your physicality? How are you using your whole body to tell this story?”

Aside from being a fun production, “Grease” features an age group students can portray with authenticity.

“It’s mostly juniors and seniors (in the cast), but we do have a couple freshman and a couple sophomores,” Whitehead said. “But it’s primarily our 16- and 17-year-olds, which are primarily the ages of these characters.”

The magnet program will continue its season with the one-act play “The Illusion” Nov. 5 and 6. The student orchestra will participate in a production of “Monty Python’s Spamalot” Feb. 17 and 20, 2022, and the season will end with the play “Intimate Apparel” April 21 to 24, 2022.

Whitehead believes the success of Dr. Phillips’ performances lies in the program’s curriculum.

“We pride ourselves on the fact that all of our students have a comprehensive education,” he said. “We are not just teaching them on-stage or backstage techniques; they’re required to learn on- and off-stage positions. I’m staring at cast members right now who are helping with lights, even though they’re not on the lights crew. They know it contributes to their production.

“They understand the finishing touches and the fine details required,” Whitehead said.

 

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Jim Carchidi was an associate editor for the West Orange Times & Observer, Southwest Orange Observer and OrangeObserver.com. 

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