by Dennis Dalman
Luke Payne of Sartell has a minor but plum role in the popular musical Grease, which will be performed by St. John’s Prep School students March 22-23 at the Paramount Theater in downtown St. Cloud.
Payne is one of five SJP students from Sartell who has roles in the play. The others are Kyra Hulsebus, Sydney Lo, Evan Morrison and Cormac Smith.
Performances are set for 7:30 p.m. Friday, March 21 and Saturday, March 22; and 2 p.m. Sunday, March 23. Tickets are available at www.paramountarts.org.
Payne, the son of Sandy and Tom Payne, plays Vince Fontaine, a local radio disc jockey, who’s putting on a show for the teenagers in the play.
“Vince is a kind of one-dimensional cardboard cutout character,” said Payne, who is 17. “He’s often heard in the play but not seen. He does appear in the dance contest scene because he’s the judge of it.”
As Vince, Payne wears a loud blue-plaid suit, a kind of goofy-garish 1950s style. That suit and the other costumes in Grease were designed by Payne’s mother, Sandy, with help from other seamstresses and Sandy’s mother, Margaret Melcher.
“I don’t sing any songs solo, but I do get to sing in the chorus,” Payne said. “The show is incredibly fun to be in. We really enjoy all the dancing, and it gets our energies up.”
Payne has participated in theater productions since he was in seventh grade. He’s played roles in Peter Pan, Our Town, Damn Yankees, Beauty and the Beast and enjoyed the choice role of the Lion in The Wizard of Oz.
In 1971, Grease debuted on Broadway and became a hit movie later, starring John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John. The 1950s-style rock ‘n’ roll musical by Jim Jacobs and Warren Casey has been an international favorite, and many of its songs have become classics.
Originally, the Broadway version of Grease was considered bold and raucous, riddled with vulgarities. But subsequent productions were toned down to more family-friendly versions, including the current production by St. John’s Prep School. SJP’s Grease features students who hail from five countries.
The musical examines the love woes of 10 teens from working-class families at Rydell Senior High School.
The show’s two main characters are Danny Zuko and Sandy Dumbrowski, who go through the ups and downs of young love. Among the others in the play are members of a clique called the “Pink Ladies” and the “Burger Palace Boys.” The play includes lots of dancing, chorus showstoppers and 14 songs.
The SJP version also contains a few tweaked surprises for those familiar with the movie version. The tweaked lines have to do with the importance of affirming one’s own true identity, even under peer pressure.
There are 65 SJP students in Grease, which include 27 actors, work crew and backstage helpers.
It is directed by Brother Paul-Vincent Niebauer, with musical direction by Jeff Engholm. In his long career at SJP, Niebauer has directed 35 plays and 20 musicals, as well as an opera workshop and theater productions in St. Cloud.
Niebauer said audiences will likely be wowed by the stage set, which took three huge trucks to move to the Paramount stage. The scenery rolls on and off the stage during the production, and there is even a garage where the musical’s famed car, “Greased Lightnin’ ” is parked. The orchestra-band is perched at the very top, on the highest level of the stage setting.
“I’ve always enjoyed music and dancing,” said Niebauer, who is 62. He is confident audiences will greatly enjoy the energetic dancing and singing in Grease.
Dalman was born and raised in South St. Cloud, graduated from St. Cloud Tech High School, then graduated from St. Cloud State University with a degree in English (emphasis on American and British literature) and mass communications (emphasis on print journalism). He studied in London, England for a year (1980-81) where he concentrated on British literature, political science, the history of Great Britain and wrote a book-length study of the British writer V.S. Naipaul. Dalman has been a reporter and weekly columnist for more than 30 years and worked for 16 of those years for the Alexandria Echo Press.