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Grease plays May 2-11 at Largo Cultural Center
Cast members prepare to bring Eight O’Clock Theatre’s production of Grease to the stage
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Eight O’Clock Theatre presents Grease, Friday, May 2, through May 11, at Largo Cultural Center, 105 Central Park Drive.
LARGO – Eight O’Clock Theatre is preparing to send audiences back to school – more specifically, back to Rydell High, class of 1959.

The EOT production of “Grease” debuts Friday, May 2, 8 p.m., at Largo Cultural Center, 105 Central Park Drive, Largo. The show runs through May 11. Performances are on Thursday, Friday and Saturday, 8 p.m. with a 2 p.m. matinees on Sunday. An extra show has been added on Wednesday, May 7, 8 p.m. For tickets, call 587-6793 or visit largo­arts.­com.

The musical comedy features book, music and lyrics by Jim Jacobs and Warren Casey.

It’s back to the 1950s with a crew of duck-tailed, hot-rodding greasers and their gum-snapping, hip-shaking Pink Ladies in bobby sox and pedal pushers. The school’s alpha male, Danny Zuko, returns to school bragging about his summer fling. When the object of his affection – the new, good girl, Sandy Dumbrowski – arrives on campus, Zuko has to choose between rekindling his summer romance or maintaining his macho image.

The show boasts songs such as “Greased Lightnin',” “It's Raining on Prom Night” and “Alone at the Drive-In Movie,” all recalling the music of Buddy Holly, Little Richard and Elvis Presley that became the soundtrack of a generation. An eight-year run on Broadway and two subsequent revivals along with innumerable school and community productions place “Grease” among the world's most popular musicals.

Mallory Quinn will play the role of Sandy in this production. Quinn, a Tampa native. has been performing since age 4.

As a child she performed as a munchkin in “The Wizard of Oz” on Broadway’s Tampa productions starring Mickey Rooney and Eartha Kitt as well as taking part in various dance performances. She is an alumnus of Blake High School for the Performing Arts where she majored in musical theatre.

“I started dancing at the age of 4, and always loved watching dance musicals growing up,” Quinn said in an interview. “My favorites were shows like ‘West Side Story,’ ‘Singin’ In the Rain,’ ‘A Chorus Line’ and ‘Grease.’”

Quinn’s love of dance musicals inspired her to start singing.

“I did some singing when I was little, but I didn’t really start doing musicals until I auditioned for Blake High School for the Performing Arts and got accepted for musical theatre,” she said. “I started doing mostly ensemble dance roles, and then after high school, really got into mainly singing roles.”

Among her regional theater credits are “The Last Five Years” as Cathy, “RENT” as Mimi, “Les Miserables” as Eponine, “Company” as April, “Smokey Joe’s Café” as Brenda and “Music of the Knight: The Songs of Andrew Lloyd Webber and Friends” as a soloist and choreographer.

Having played so many different roles, Quinn said it is difficult to single one out as her favorite.

“If I had to pick one favorite it would probably be Eponine in ‘Les Miserables’ because I wanted to play that part since I was a little girl,” Quinn said. “I enjoy playing characters that can really make the audience feel something by sharing a common pain with them. I think every woman in the world can relate to Eponine’s pain of unrequited love, whether on a small or much larger scale. Hearing an audience cry with you is such an incredible feeling and doing that show was one of the best connections I have ever had with an audience.”

Quinn said her interest in any given role depends upon her own history with the show.

“If it is a show I’ve loved for a long time, or one where I relate to the character, I’ll go for it,” she said. “Of course, I’ve grown up watching ‘Grease’ and have seen the movie a million times.”

Quinn said her mother told her that, as a child, she used to arrange her Barbie dolls in a line and have them dance to songs from “Grease” – possibly an early sign of her choreography skills.

“To be honest, when I went to audition for ‘Grease,’ Sandy was not a role I thought I would be called back for,” Quinn said. “All of my friends were joking with me during callbacks saying things like ‘Mallory as Sandy? But you’re such a Rizzo!’”

Quinn admits that at first glance, Sandy as a character can seem like a boring, prudish personality.

“However, as I’ve gotten to ‘know’ the character a little bit more, I am very excited because I feel that Sandy is misunderstood,” Quinn said. “There are aspects of Sandy that I can relate to a lot.”

As an example, Quinn said she was “definitely the ‘purity’ girl” in high school.

“For that reason,” Quinn said, she “had a lot of trouble with dating, which Sandy experiences. I can relate to people making fun of Sandy’s decisions, rather than respecting them, and the rejection that she feels there. While I think most patrons who see ‘Grease’ might think Sandy is ‘not fun,’ my goal is to make the audience enjoy and understand her by the end of the show. I just hope young girls don’t watch this show and think, ‘oh I just have to give in to peer pressure and change for a guy to like me.’

According to Quinn, the most enjoyable part of preparing for a production is getting to know the cast and crew and really bond with them.

“I’ve only been in rehearsals a short time and have already made some great friends who I know I want to perform with again someday,” Quinn said. “In every show I feel I have grown as not only a performer but as a person from being around some amazing individuals.”

Quinn also said that this production presents unique hurdles.

“This is one of the most difficult roles I’ve been cast as due to the popularity of the show and the role,” she said. “It is a lot of pressure to play an iconic role and I don’t want to disappoint people who come to the show expecting to see a blonde, tiny, Olivia Newton John with an Australian accent.”

She also acknowledges that most people know the music to “Grease” perfectly, so getting it just right can be demanding and stressful. No matter the amount of pressure, though, she clearly enjoys the challenge.

“Theater has always been a part of my life, and I couldn’t imagine my life without it even though I chose not to pursue it as my professional career,” Quinn said.

Quinn currently attends the University of South Florida where she is enrolled in the Applied Behavior Analysis doctorate program. She also works as an instructor and conducts research at the university.

She has combined her love for performing arts with behavior analysis research by conducting a study where she used a teaching tool, which focuses on positive reinforcement and auditory feedback (TAGteach) to train dance instructors to enhance the performance of four young dance students in their classes. Her research is currently pending publication in Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis.

As far as role models in the acting industry go, Quinn points to someone who made similar life decisions.

“Natalie Portman would be my choice because despite having success in acting, she finished a psychology degree at Harvard University and graduated with honors before really diving into her acting career,” Quinn explained. “As a full time student, I respect anyone who puts their education first but still makes time to pursue their dreams.”

Playing opposite her in “Grease” will be Kyle Hill, starring as Danny.

Hill grew up in West Virginia and began acting in high school doing his first musical, “Little Shop of Horrors,” in the role of Seymour. Shortly after, he moved to the Tampa Bay area and in 2009 he did his first show in Florida as ensemble in “Chicago” at St. Petersburg City Theatre.

Since then, Hill has performed in a variety of productions such as “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee” and “Hairspray” at St. Petersburg City Theatre; and “Funny Girl,” “Broadway’s Best” and “The Full Monty” at Eight O’Clock Theatre; and “Fiddler on the Roof” at Francis Wilson Playhouse.

Hill first became involved with Eight O’Clock Theatre in 2010 during the production of “The Drowsy Chaperone.”

“James Grenelle, our current director, knew me from a previous production and asked if I would join the cast as ensemble,” Hill said. The production ran in May 2011. More recently, Hill appeared in “Lost at Sea” and “La Cage aux Folles” at EOT.

Hill admitted that he had to have “an open mind” when approaching the character of Danny.

“Especially when there is a movie version of the show that is known and loved by many,” Hill said. “I always try to take characters like this and make them my own. I know I don't want to be John Travolta; however, I do want to stay true to the Danny that is written.”

In preparing to play the role, Hill had a few revelations about the character.

“After reading the script for the stage show, I was surprised to find that although Danny plays cool and sly, truly he is insecure,” Hill said. “So this made me rethink him just a little when trying to become him on stage.”

Hill said this production has an especially talented group of people committed to bringing it to the stage. According to Hill, the “strong cast” sets this show apart from other productions.

“They are all so talented and everyone in this show truly shines in their own way,” he said.

Hill said he loves working with EOT – and he explained his high regard for the troupe.

“There's a real sense of family with them and they always welcome new talent with open arms,” Hill said.

Like Quinn, Hill feels a certain amount of pressure working on any stage show.

“The most difficult part is the stress to strive to get it right,” Hill said. “It doesn't matter if I am crew, ensemble, supporting or a lead in a musical. The pressure not to mess up always lingers over me.”

But it’s obviously worth it – and seeing the finished product is the payoff.

“The most enjoyable part of preparing for any musical is seeing all the individual pieces you have worked on come together,” Hill said. “One rehearsal may be music and vocals, one may be choreography and one might be staging and blocking, but you never get to see them all put together like a puzzle until you get closer to the end of the process. That feeling I get when I feel and see it as one cohesive unit will never get old.

Rachel Crissman will play Rizzo in EOT’s production.

Crissman said Rizzo is a complicated character to tackle.

“She is so sarcastic and tough that it is a challenge to find moments where she can be silly, funny, and even sweet,” Crissman said. “This is so important so the audience doesn't hate her when she becomes vulnerable in the second act but can actually relate to her and feel for her.”

Crissman said she has spent a lot of time thinking about what she and Rizzo have in common – and what they don’t have in common. In preparing for the role, Crissman also thought about “what could have happened in her life to make her have so many walls.”

Crissman also drew from her own experiences to help her understand the character.

“I also remember the girls I knew in school who were like Rizzo,” she said. “I used a couple of them in my portrayal.”

Crissman said that to play any character, she has to know who they are and what makes them who they are.

“With Rizzo, that meant coming up with a family backstory, childhood memories and drawing from my own personal high school experience,” she said. “Hopefully, it will all pay off and the audience will learn to love Rizzo as much as I do.”

Crissman recently appeared in EOT’s production of “Thoroughly Modern Millie.” She gave a solid performance as Miss Dorothy, Millie’s best friend. Crissman made her debut at EOT with this role, and she’s glad to be back on stage with the troupe.

“The thing I enjoy the most about doing an EOT show is the people,” she said. “This is my second show with EOT and everyone from the production team, cast and crew is not only so talented and dedicated to excellence but they are also so sweet and encouraging and really make you feel like you are apart of a family. There is nothing better than being able to essentially play around with your friends while volunteering your time for your community.”

The cast of Eight O’Clock Theatre’s production of “Grease” also features Billy Masuck as Kenickie, Michael Mekus as Doody, Lauren Clark as Frenchy, Jonathan Pouliot as Roger, Abigail Brazier as Jan, Jacob Howard as Sonny, Katie Eichler as Marty, Aaron Stephany as Eugene, Lydia Murtha as Patty, Vicki Knapp as Miss Lynch, Christopher Carte as Teen Angel, Joey Harper as Johnny Casino, Amy Spies as Cha-Cha and Scott Cole as Vince Fontaine. Also appearing, as Rydell High students, are Haley Abbott, Paige Crockett, Lauren Dobles, Lauren Field, Jonathan Foster, Michael Green, Shelly Johnson, Dylan Kubiak, Maggie Musco, Troy Reamsnyder, Alanna Reynolds and Katrina Young.
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