by Dennis Dalman
Tom Skahen of St. Joseph gets to have fun strutting around as a 1950s cool-dude greaser in the St. John’s Prep School version of the rock ‘n’ roll musical, Grease, which will be performed by St. John’s Prep School students March 22-23 at the Paramount Theater in downtown St. Cloud.
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.
Skahen is one of nine SJP students from St. Joseph who have roles in the play. The others are Ilia Bauer-Jones, Skyler Figallo, Marisa Gaetz, Adam Lepinski, Ben Lepinski, Sarah Schrup, Brenna Skahen and Anja Wuolu.
The son of Jennifer and Sean Skahen, Tom plays “Danny,” one of the two leads in the play, the other being his girlfriend, Sandy, played by Lily Joo.
Skahen, 16, said the role of Danny is a lot of fun to perform because he is such a colorful character.
“He’s cocky, arrogant, and he thinks he’s bigger than he really is,” Skahen said. “There are some things that happened in his past that make him feel a bit superior. He’s an egotist.”
Skahen described Grease as “lighthearted fun” complete with the look of teens in the 1950s: jeans, leather jackets, white T-shirts, hair greased and swept back in pompadour style – “cool” looks popularized by 50s teen idols James Dean and Marlon Brando.
Skahen has performed in SJP productions since eighth grade, including roles in Our Town, Damn Yankees and A Woman Called Truth.
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.