Pittsburgh CLO version updates ‘Grease’ for the 21st century
Zach Adkins, a New York-based actor and Broadway veteran, says he has a challenge in playing too-cool-for-school Danny Zuko in Pittsburgh CLO’s production of “Grease.”
The 1971 musical “is sort of dated,” he says, so he — and the rest of the company — will be tasked with updating it for a 21th-century mindset while not depriving audiences of the show they love.
“Grease” will play June 7-16 in the Benedum Center in downtown Pittsburgh.
To refresh memories, Danny and Sandy meet cute on the beach in 1958 before their senior year of high school. Danny doesn’t tell the sweet and innocent girl that he’s really a greasy-haired, leather-jacketed member of the T-Birds.
Aussie Sandy was supposed to return home after the summer, but ends up enrolling at Rydell High in the fall, where she encounters the real Danny.
Will she become a tough-talking Pink Lady for him? Will he change for her? Will they split the difference and traipse off-stage singing, “You’re the One That I Want”?
Welcome to 2019
Though the cast will only have about a week to rehearse prior to opening night, Adkins says he discussed his role in advance with director/choreographer Barry Ivan.
“Barry’s take on the show is that it is very dated,” Adkins says. “Danny’s kind of a jerk. We’ve been talking about taking Danny and making him deeper, more relatable, more 2019. There’s a duality to him — he’s a tough guy in a leather jacket at school, but he’s very sweet and tender with Sandy (CLO veteran Kristen Martin).
“We’ve been talking about making sure Sandy is following her own dreams, because she’s a strong woman,” he says. “We don’t want people leaving with the message that men can get away with treating women poorly. We want to leave them with a good show, a positive message.
“We want people to remember their own summer loves, even if it was a flawed first love,” he says.
Adkins says most of the principals in the CLO production, which includes “American Idol” runner-up Clay Aiken in the role of Teen Angel, have never done “Grease” before. For himself, he found a very 21st-century way of preparing before his arrival in Pittsburgh.
“I recorded the opposite lines on my phone, so I can play them back and do my lines back to my phone,” he says.
Sing like a rock star
The 26-year-old Adkins says he’s looking forward to working with Aiken, knowing his legacy from the iconic singing competition.
Aiken has a particular challenge in the Teen Angel role, Adkins says, because the part requires the actor to come out cold and sing just one song — “Beauty School Dropout.”
Unlike the other cast members, who are onstage throughout, getting comfortable and loosening up their vocal chords, he says, “(Aiken) only gets one shot to nail it. He has to sit in his dressing room, then come out and sing one song. That’s the hardest thing for a performer to do.
“His time on ‘American Idol’ probably prepared him for that,” Adkins says. “I think he’s going to come out and sing it like a rock star.”
Shirley McMarlin is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Shirley at 724-836-5750, [email protected] or via Twitter .