'Grease' by Catonsville Youth Theatre gets Arundel homecoming

Most of the cast members in Catonsville Youth Theatre's production of "Grease" live in Anne Arundel County, so it seemed practical to offer the show in an Arundel venue.

On Aug. 19, "Grease" will open as the first full weekend production at the Robert Kauffman Theater at Anne Arundel Community College's Pascal Center for Performing Arts. (A ceremony celebrating the naming of the theater for Kauffman, the late professor emeritus known as "The Chief," will be held Aug. 10.

It only seems right that the production should involve a former Kauffman protegee, Christy Stouffer. She serves as "Grease" choreographer, was a longtime friend of Kauffman's and has been deeply involved in planning the Aug. 10 celebration.

As choreographer, Stouffer has worked with several of the "Grease" cast in previous Pasadena Theatre Company productions. Of this project, Stouffer says, "This is a great group of kids, and we're having lots of fun at dance rehearsals."

"I'm especially impressed by the boys in the cast," she added. "Most of them have no formal dance training, but their energy and enthusiasm make the numbers like 'Greased Lightning,' 'We Go Together' and 'Hand Jive' a joy to watch."

Stouffer lauded the "tremendous help" of assistant choreographer Emily Sego of Arnold.

Director Chuck Dick also expressed his admiration for this hardworking cast of 23, of whom four live in Pasadena and Glen Burnie, while 12 hail from Severna Park. Dick commented on how dedicated every member of the cast has proved to be over this summer's rehearsal period.

Watching these talented students rehearse several demanding dance routines, I was convinced of their extraordinary dedication to long hours of practice and their status as genuine troupers. Included along with the 16 from Anne Arundel are seven who come from Baltimore City, Howard County, Catonsville and Elkridge. One phenomenal dancer caught my eye at rehearsal; I learned he is Ben Pittman, who lives in Catonsville and attends the George Washington Carver Center for Arts and Technology in Baltimore County.

"Grease" appeared on Broadway in 1972, the year after its debut in Chicago, and it became a hit movie starring John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John in 1978.

Set in 1959 at Rydell High, the story follows senior Danny Zuko and his wholesome girlfriend, Sandy Dumbrowski, along with tough-acting Pink Ladies leader Rizzo and her equally tough boyfriend, Kenickie. Together, the characters struggle for acceptance by their peers while celebrating an innocent era of early rock 'n' roll in song and dance.

At rehearsal, it seemed that the Severna Park High School students were well along in their transformation into students at the mythical Rydell High of five decades past. Severna Park High is responsible for all four leads: Josh Magness plays Danny, Emily Smith plays Rizzo and Taylor Brown plays Kenickie, who loves his car, Greased Lightning. Erin Paxton plays Sandy, who has liked Danny since their brief summer romance.

Of the score, Emily said she liked the album enough to download it on her iPod, finding the tunes "really catchy."

"And when I sing them, I like them even more," she said.

Erin agreed this was "really good music with high energy." On the relevance of issues, Josh found "some things like teenage use of alcohol still an issue." All four agreed that "establishing an identity in growing up is universal."

A newcomer this year to the group, Taylor Brown found "Kenickie's excitement over cars might not be as important to us as it was in the old days."

Other SPHS students cast in important roles include David Pitt, who plays DJ Vince Fontaine; Karah Parks as teacher Miss Lynch; Dana Meyers as Jan; Matt Dell as Roger; Ben Weinberg as Sonny; Jessie Gentille as Marty; Susie Davis as Cha Cha; and Jake Lebowitz as Teen Angel.

Performances are scheduled for Aug. 19 and 20 at 8 p.m. and on Aug. 21 and 3 p.m. Tickets are $12 general admission and $8 for children age 7 and under. For information call 410-544-8426.

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