High school theater productions are marked by an air of excitement, hope and anxiety; of students stepping outside their comfort zones to prove to their parents, friends, teachers and themselves that they can handle the stage pressures, remember their lines and become their roles.
The pressure ante, already sky-high, is raised even higher for Springbrook High School this year as the students put on Grease, the first musical the school’s produced in three years.
“We have to put on a good performance to prove to people that Springbrook can do this arts program,” said Zoe Braddock, who plays the wholesome Sandy.
For the past three years Springbrook’s lacked a theater department and teacher. That was until Adrienne D’Orazio arrived this year, and she quickly assumed control of the musical. Aided by fellow teacher Emily DeTroye, the musical director, the school is out to demonstrate to the community that Springbrook does have a viable theater program.
The meaning of the show is not lost on the students.
“It’s really important for the school to show that Springbrook does have a culture, and does have a drama department,” said Chukwukpee Nzegwu, whose crooning, melodic voice brings life to Vince Fontaine. “I think it’s very important we do our best this year because in future years, it’ll be easier for the school and more talent will come to Springbrook.”
The Northeast Consortium, consisting of Springbrook, Paint Branch High School and Blake High School, allows area students to choose one of the three schools to attend, and the lack of a theater department has hindered Springbrook in past years.
William Thompson, who personifies “cool” as Danny, admitted Blake was his first choice for high school because he knew about its emphasis on theater. Now a senior, Thompson hopes that building up the department will demonstrate to younger students that actors can find a home at the Silver Spring school. As well as perfecting his strut and putting his cockiness to the test on stage, he’s also spreading word about the show to as many people as he can.
“We just made a Facebook page. My mom’s telling everyone she can to come to Grease,” Thompson said. “We’re really hoping there’s a big turnout. If there’s a big turnout, that’ll be exciting.”
As the production dates near, the actors are trying to ignore the show’s grander impact for the school, and just put on the most fun version of “Grease” they can.
While it’s challenging, as the students are largely fledgling, Springbrook has a vast amount of natural talent, DeTroye said, and talent that is not afraid to put on a new spin on the classic musical. One of Thompson’s goals as Danny is for the audience to leave thinking that “Springbrook made the production their own.”
“I didn’t want to be John Travolta. I didn’t want to be William Thompson playing John Travolta playing Danny Zuko. I wanted to be William Thompson playing Danny Zuko.”
While Thompson’s owning the role, Anastasia Abongnelah knew she wanted to play the bumbling, ball of energy Jan because she saw so much of herself in the character.
“She was like me,” Abongnelah, who arrived in Silver Spring from England two years ago, said. “She was energetic, fun, always eating. I just went for it.”
The show has been particularly meaningful for Abongnelah, who said she had trouble fitting in to the new community last year. She was depressed, she said, and never participated in after-school activities because there was nothing for a theater girl like her to do. With Grease, she has something to look forward to every day.
“I’ve met people, I’ve met such beautiful people, beautiful personalities. We’re like a big family here,” she said. “Before I felt like I was an outsider because it’s like (Americans) were speaking a different language.”
The show’s significance alters slightly with each student and teacher. Nzegwu said he wants to put on “something that everyone wants to see – something spectacular.” Braddock, a seasoned actress, just loves being on stage. For D’Orazio, though, its impact became concrete on March 1, when the school hosted a middle school night. About 12 to 14 children showed up, she said, and much of the cast came to teach them the songs. The children then performed the tunes when their parents picked them up.
“A lot of the kids were like, ‘Wow, I didn’t know things like went on at Springbrook, maybe I’ll go to Springbrook now,'” D’Orazio said.
Grease will run at the high school at 7 p.m. on April 19, 20, 26 and 27. Tickets cost $5 for students and $10 for adults.