WAMS aims to electrify the stage with a little ‘greased lightnin’

Grease is the word for William Allen Middle School. 

Grease is the word that you heard. It’s got groove; it’s got meaning — at least if the students of William Allen Middle School have anything to say about it.

“Grease” will make its debut at Allen Thursday, Feb. 20, at 7 p.m., with performances through Sunday, Feb. 23. 

The show follows high school seniors Danny and Sandy, who are enamored of one another after a summer fling. But when the two return to school in the spring, Sandy’s good girl  image and Danny’s bad boy mentality are at odds. “Grease” follows the two and their friends as they break up and make up throughout the course of senior year. 

WAMS special education teacher and the production’s director, Susan Balderstone, said when it comes to the school’s shows, her intent is simple.

“I don’t do anything small,” she noted. “It’s either go big or go home.” 

After last spring’s musical, “Newsies,” Balderstone wanted a piece that was equally large in scale but with a bit more levity in its tone. When the production’s vocal director suggested  “Grease,” the teacher thought it was a great idea since the school had never performed the show.

Given the show’s worldwide popularity, there was a time when the school feared it might not get the rights. In September, it announced “Grease” as the spring musical, but officials were not entirely certain they’d been approved. That happened a few weeks later, and the adults and students got to work planning.

Balderstone said because the show is set in the 1950s, teaching the students some of the nuances of that time period has been one of the more challenging aspects of rehearsals. But with a little practice and instruction, the cast has infused the show with a healthy helping of the time period. The choreography even features ’50s dances, with the students learning to cha cha, among other period dance moves.

The production is also quite large in scale for the middle school. Balderstone said the show offered the school a chance to include a large number of students, with nearly 60 on stage. The show also features around 150 costumes, with the leads each changing a minimum of four times.

For Charlie Oatway, who plays Danny, and Charlotte Lemaire, who plays Sandy, the iconic music has proven the most fun. But despite the fact that they’re familiar with the songs, the show is hardly a breeze, Lemaire said. 

“’Grease’ is one of the most popularly performed musicals, so it might seem like that might make it easy,” she noted. “Even though it’s one of the [popular] ones, it’s definitely difficult to get all of the harmonies.” 

The pair — both eighth graders — agree the show has given everyone a chance to show their maturity. Lemaire said while trying to convey a romantic relationship can be awkward at times for the students’ age demographic, it’s good practice for the acting that lies ahead in high school.

Oatway said the cast has put in the time and the audience is sure to see that on opening night.

“The entire cast of this show has just been working so hard, and everyone has contributed,” he insisted. “And that has been showing.”

Tickets are available for purchase at the door or online at https://www.showtix4u.com/event-details/36950