Champaign Urbana Theatre Company is rolling their sleeves up and preparing to bring lighting to the stage with Grease as their 13th Annual Kathy Murphy Student Production. Grease came to the spotlight following the 1978 musical romantic comedy starring John Travolta and Australian sweetheart Olivia Newton-John, but the stage version has been around since 1971 with the music, lyrics, and book by Jim Jacobs and Warren Casey.  

Grease follows the tale of Sandy Dumbrowski (played by Katie Witruk), the new girl at Rydell High School, and her relationship with Rydell High’s charming but tough T-Bird greaser gang member Danny Zuko (played by Finn Dallas). In order to appease Sandy, Danny attempts to “clean up” his bad boy act, while Sandy is simultaneously coached by her cohorts, the Pink Ladies, to become the greaser girl she believes Danny will fall for.

What makes this particular production unique is its enormous cast of 50 students. Members of the cast represent a whopping 16 schools in C-U and the surrounding area, bringing them all together through the power of performance.

Whitney Havice is a first time director for Champaign Urbana Theatre Company, but has been extremely active with the organization for several years. She joined CUTC at the age of 14 and has been involved in over 60 productions since as a cast member, choreographer, and assistant director. She explained, “Each role has its positives and negatives - the whole ‘grass is greener’ on the other side mentality! I love being onstage, but I also love watching the ideas in my head as a choreographer or as a director come to life onstage.”

Havice notes some of her favorite roles as being Tiger Lily in Peter Pan, Ayah in The Secret Garden, and a Silly Girl in Beauty and the Beast. On the production side, some of Havice’s favorite ventures have been providing choreography for Les Miserables, The Music Man, Legally Blonde, and select numbers in The Producers. On her involvement in prior incarnation of Grease by CUTC, Havice reflects, “I was a featured dancer in the cast and saw my life flash before my eyes every night when I did a handstand behind my partner during one of our dance scenes together and he grabbed my ankles and flipped me over his head.” 

Havice explained that Grease has always been one of her favorite musicals, but she views it in a different light as an adult. “I had to look more in-depth at the motivations of some of the characters' actions in this production. That has really opened my eyes to how universal some of those motivations are, and how much more I can relate to and understand some of them in my own way now that I'm older.” 

When asked what has been the most rewarding part of the process, Havice explained that it has been watching the actors come into their roles and develop presence on the stage. “Watching the pieces of the puzzle, so to speak, of the show, click in their minds and seeing them really connect with what they're doing onstage (whether it's vocals, choreography, or character) makes me incredibly happy.”

As you can expect from any production of Grease, this show is seriously going to be fun.  However, there is a greater meaning behind why CUTC keeps up the tradition of the annual Kathy Murphy production. Kathy Murphy was a founding member of CUTC whose impact has been celebrated through providing an opportunity for young performers from all around the area to come together and express themselves through theatre. She passed away in 2009. “I knew Kathy for many years, and every time I was involved in a CUTC show, she was there. She became a staple in my theatre life. I'm very honored to be directing this show in her name, and hope that she would put her stamp of approval on it,” said Havice.

***

Champaign Urbana Theatre Company’s production of Grease, directed by Whitney Havice and music direction by Liz Martin and Cameron Cornell, will be presented June 14-16 and 21-23 at 7 p.m. and June 17 and 24 at 2 p.m. at Parkland College’s Harold and Jean Miner Theatre. For tickets and more information, please click here.

Photo provided by CUTC.