I have a confession to make.
When I heard that Corona del Mar High School (CdM) Drama’s spring musical was “Grease,” I was wary.
Don’t get me wrong. I love the movie as much as anybody does. For my 13th birthday, my friends and I watched it in my living room. My guests signed a poster that still hangs in my bedroom. That night, I went to bed filled with dreams of a sports car, a perm, and a leather pantsuit.
But I also knew if not for that 1978 classic film, Grease as a stage play would have fallen into obscurity. The ‘6os marked the end of Broadway’s golden age, and we had yet to experience the ’80s, the decade of “Les Miserables,” “The Phantom of the Opera” and theater’s resurrection.
In the interim decade, the shows that made it to Broadway were a little offbeat. Even though Grease was a smash when it opened, it did not have the staying power of some of its predecessors. It was on track to die with disco.
Enter John Travolta. The swivel-hipped hunk with a killer falsetto took this fading stage story and turned it into a smash film, a pop culture phenomenon decades after its release. So now the show can go beyond Broadway. It held up on live television this past January. And every year, thousands of high schools around the country do their own version of the hand jive.
And that’s just the trouble. The show is so beloved that it can sometimes be formulaic. Audience members can come away feeling like they just saw a lackluster remake of a great movie rather than a show in its own right—and I feared our version would come to the same fate.
When I heard Blake Weise was starring, though, my fears were put to rest.
“I don’t really have one solid inspiration for Danny,” Weise said, “My one main goal was to simply make him my own and not do a glorified impression of John Travolta.”
The junior is relatively new to the showbiz gig. In fact, his audition last year for “Noises Off” was his first.
“After Googling what a monologue was I found one that fit me and I performed it at the audition. Leaving the audition, I had no idea how I did,” he remembered.
He did well enough to be cast as Frederick Fellowes—the first in a series of character parts. He was part of the Wickersham Trio in “Seussical,” the flamboyant Russian ballet instructor in “You Can’t Take it With You”, and most recently, Dan in “Almost Maine.”
“As you can likely see I have had the privilege to really stretch my range as an actor given all of these wildly different roles,” Weise explained.
The leading man is a brand, new challenge. Playing Danny Zuko takes more than a leather jacket.
“The most challenging thing about playing Danny has been trying to express all of the emotion and complexity there can be in him,” said Weise.
And of course, there’s the dancing.
“It can often be difficult to remember that I am an alpha-male Greaser in the 1950’s when I am hopping and spinning my way through songs like ‘Greased Lightning,’” Weise admitted.
His castmates are with him every step of the way.
“Being able to sing and dance our way through 1950’s high school brings out a fun and loving atmosphere during rehearsals and it can be hard to stop smiling,” he said. “I am so grateful that I am able to bond with all of my fellow cast members over a blaring rock and roll soundtrack that always keeps us going.”
The feeling is mutual.
“I think audience members will find Blake’s performance hilarious,” said sophomore Sarah Greengard. “They’ll want to get up from their seats and sing along with him.”
Greengard plays the uppity principal Miss Lynch. Although the T-Birds regard their teachers with outright derision, for Weise, art does not imitate life. He greatly admires his drama teacher, Jacqueline Jecmen.
“She has a great way of helping actors grow into their characters by simply seeing where they take the role, and making necessary adjustments,” he explained. “Through this method, an actor can bring something new to the table every day until they find something they are happy with.”
Most actors have dream roles. Some would even put Zuko at the top of their list. Weise thinks differently.
“I don’t have a dream role,” he explained. “It limits the broadening of my horizons in character and performance. I never set myself one character to strive towards because I believe an actor should mainly focus on the role that they are currently embodying.”
From the moment he first stepped onto the stage, Weise knew he belonged there.
“It gave me a boost of excitement, nervousness, and adrenaline that I had never experienced before and I knew that I could only continue to match this amazing sensation through performance.”
Weise hopes to continue acting through high school and beyond.
“I certainly plan to study theatre in college. I aspire to go to a college in the Southern California area to obtain a BFA. I have been looking at USC, Chapman, UCSB, among others,” he said.
In the wrong hands, Grease can seem like an old car—a piece of rusty nostalgia. But with Weise in the driver’s seat, the show could very well become Greased Lightning once again.