RACINE — Almost every performance of the Racine Theatre Guild’s production of “Grease” has sold out, pushing the RTG to schedule a third weekend of performances.
Every seat was sold for opening weekend, which kicked off Friday evening, and most of the tickets for July 26-28 are already gone. That success has pushed the guild to schedule an additional weekend of performances, with shows scheduled for 7 p.m. on Friday Aug. 2 and Saturday Aug. 3. The final show will be 2 p.m. on Sunday, Aug. 4.
Extensions like this don’t happen often at RTG.
“If I’d been smarter, I’d have scheduled it for five weeks,” laughed Doug Instenes, the Racine Theatre Guild’s managing/artistic director. “That is very unusual that we have been sold out before we open.”
The guild hasn’t done a ton of advertising leading up to the show, which is part of why Instenes and some cast members are surprised by how many tickets have been sold — not that they’re complaining.
“I think, because ‘Grease’ is such an iconic show, it’s pretty easy to sell. Everyone knows about ‘Grease,’” said Meghan Flynn, who plays Marty Maraschino of The Pink Ladies.
“We’ve sold out, we’ve had good shows (at RTG), but it’s unusual to have it this quickly,” Instenes added.
Landing the part
Getting permission to use the script, which was first performed in Chicago in 1971 before moving to Broadway the next year and the silver screen in 1978, was a challenge in the first place.
“You have to jump through so many hoops just to do it (“Grease”),” Instenes said Friday, hours before the curtain dropped for the opening night performance, although a preview show had been staged the night before.
Rights for the musical are still owned by the original writers, Jim Jacobs and Warren Case, which is unusual — a publishing company typically has the power to approve or reject applications for local theaters to do a show.
Instenes said that that situation adds weeks to the wait-time before hearing back on if RTG could do the play, a process that sometimes only takes hours with a publisher. And it took 10 days to get approval for the third weekend, which was officially given a last-minute go-ahead three days before opening night.
And then to get approval for three of the songs original to the movie — “Sandy,” “You’re the One That I Want” and the eponymous “Grease” — Instenes had to go to Universal Music Group, which owns rights to the movie soundtrack.
“(The stage version) is a lot different from the movie, which a lot of people don’t expect,” Flynn pointed out.
That’s something Instenes wanted his actors to remember, that they can develop their own stage personas and not just replicate what they remember John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John doing in the film.
“We started with the movie, peeled that back and built the characters up from that,” said 26-year-old Connor Benson, who is playing the rock ‘n’ roller Johnny Casino.
It’s an unusually youthful cast for the guild, with almost every actor falling between the ages of 16 and 26.
“For such a young cast, they’re very professional … People are coming early and staying late,” Instenes said. “We have pretty high expectations here (at the Racine Theatre Guild).”
Some of them — like Flynn, who just finished her first year at Winona State University pursuing a degree in legal studies — are college students who miss the experience of being in a high school play every semester.
“I’ve been doing theater for five years now,” said Flynn, a 2018 St. Catherine’s High School graduate, “and it’s something I missed when I went to college, not being able to be in shows.”
Benson hasn’t been in a RTG production in five years after getting his start as a preteen in 2004. But when the actor originally cast to play Casino dropped out, Instenes called on Benson, hoping to pull him back into the fold.
“I was kind of thrown in,” laughed Benson, who lives in Union Grove and works for a concrete contractor. “Everyone is here for the same reason … just to put on a good show.”
Updated: The times for the three August performances have been corrected in this story.