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Whitnall's production of 'Grease' nominated for 24 Tommy Awards

Cast and crew performs “Grease Lightening” during Whitnall High School’s performance of “Grease.”

Cast and crew performs “Grease Lightening” during Whitnall High School’s performance of “Grease.” Photo By Photo courtesy of Tom Weissgerber

April 15, 2014

Hales Corners —Reviewers lauded Whitnall High School's production of "Grease" this month, nominating it for 24 awards in 15 categories of the Overture Center for the Arts Tommy Awards

With bright, popping colors on set, loud, reverberating acoustics and researched direction from Tom Weissberger that evoked the rebellious nature of teens in the 1950s, "Grease" wasn't just a performed script, it was a period piece.

"I really wanted to push for the hard core," Weissberger said. "I'm not going to hide what 'Grease' is about. It's pretty naughty — it's the sexual revolution. I wanted to be harsh."

Whitnall's nominations include Outstanding Musical, Outstanding Ensemble, Outstanding Direction and Outstanding Orchestra, among others. Senior Kayla Atadero was also nominated for Outstanding Lead Performer for her role as Betty Rizzo.

The Overture Tommy Awards program is a statewide initiative based in Madison that recognizes excellence in high school musical theater. Winners will be announced in May.

Play to win

Weissberger was the first to admit "Grease" is not his favorite production. But he did see enough value in the play's historic content to bring it to Whitnall's stage in March.

Set in 1959, on the cusp of the 1960s sexual revolution, "Grease" demanded high-energy dancing, total character immersion and vibrant lighting (Whitnall used the same computerized lighting seen at a rock concert).

Music Director Todd Stacey worked with students to create the "doo-wop" nuances in their voices to pull out the rock flair. "It was very a la Elvis in concert," Weissberger said.

The stage was black and white with neon color accents.

"We choose what color we want to be," said Weissberger of the characters' intentional rebellion or conformity in the production.

Acting as a seriously conflicted smoker who becomes pregnant, Kayla Atadero felt out of her comfort zone while playing Betty Rizzo, she said. Atadero, who is only a 16-year-old-senior, did her homework to play the opposite of herself. She is usually cast in "happy and jolly" roles, she said.

And while plenty of cast members lacked dance experience, choreographer Karl Miller created steps that every student could feel good about, Weissberger said. Atadero said it was that kind of direction that made numbers like "Grease Lightening" and "We Go Together" so impressive.

And for Weissberger — that was the point.

"It's more about finding excellence in a student instead of a competition," he said.

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