Originally created 09/26/03

Performers try new aspect of musical theater in 'Grease'



A veteran performer with countless productions under her belt, Julia Morgan has never uttered a word on stage.

Likewise Aaron Hobbs, a musician who has spent a substantial part of his life in darkened theaters, has yet to sing a single song from the footlights.

But all that is about to change.

Although most of the cast of the Augusta Players' production of Grease, which opens today at the Imperial Theatre, find the world of musical theater old hat, there are those involved who are delving into the all-singing, all-dancing drama world for the first time, and they are surprised at what they have found.

"You know, I considered myself in dancing shape coming into this," said Ms. Morgan, who performed as Juliet in the Augusta Ballet production of Romeo and Juliet last spring and plays good girl Patty Simcox in Grease. "But then I had to add the singing and the acting and the nervousness that comes with speaking on stage for the first time. It's exhausting."

Before landing the role of nerdy, nebbish Eugene in Grease, Mr. Hobbs' performance history had played out below the stage, in the orchestra pit. He said that part of the challenge of jumping on stage was divesting himself of the anonymity the pit provides.

"I'm usually playing the horn, unseen, with my part in front of my face," he said. "There, when I made a boo-boo, very few people realized that it was me."

For newcomer John Hutchins, who plays Roger, one of the Burger Palace Boys, the greatest challenge was mastering the show's 1950s-inspired choreography.

"You know, I like to dance," he said. "I thought I danced pretty well. But I find I get pretty frustrated with myself. I think I know what I'm doing, when they play the music slowly. But then they always speed it up."

Filled with sock-hop typical lifts and spins, the choreography for the players' production was developed by local dancer Sarah Shoemaker, who is also taking the musical-theater plunge for the first time. Although a lifelong fan of the form, she said it was sometimes difficult for her to remember that dance had to work as a single part of an organic whole.

"Choreographing for singers was a big challenge," she said. "I'm not a singer, and I'm not used to the idea of singing and dancing at the same time. So I would, from time to time, go into the studio and have to stop, saying 'Sarah, they cannot possibly do this and sing at the same time.' Some things were reworked a couple of times."

Ms. Shoemaker said the longest piece she had choreographed, before Grease, probably consisted of a solid 10 minutes of dance. Still, she said, period requirements in Grease kept the task from becoming too daunting.

"You are pretty limited in style with this," she said. "But the thing is, it's such a fun style. And the thing with Grease is, it's also pretty goofy. It's quirky and, well, dorky, really. The dancing is based on real dances, but goofed up a little."

ON STAGE

THE PLAY: Grease, presented by the Augusta Players

THE DATES: 8 p.m. today and Saturday, 3 p.m. Sunday

THE VENUE: The Imperial Theatre, 745 Broad St.

THE COST: $12-$35. Call 826-4707 or visit www.augustaplayers.com

Reach Steven Uhles at (706) 823-3626 or steven.uhles@augustachronicle.com