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History repeats itself in 'Grease' production

Published 10:55 am, Thursday, July 18, 2013

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  • In an original poster from the Broadway production of "Grease," New Canaan's Melody Libonati, center, played Sandy Dumbrowski. Libonati is directing the Summer Theatre of New Canaan's offering of the 1950s-themed musical, which opens with a preview on Saturday, July 20. Photo: Contributed
    In an original poster from the Broadway production of "Grease," New Canaan's Melody Libonati, center, played Sandy Dumbrowski. Libonati is directing the Summer Theatre of New Canaan's offering of the 1950s-themed musical, which opens with a preview on Saturday, July 20. Photo: Contributed

 

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'Grease'
See page B4 for details about the Summer Theatre of New Canaan's "Grease" performance schedule.
Page 1 of 1

What goes around, comes around, or so Melody Libonati, artistic director for the Summer Theatre of New Canaan, might tell you.

After having been part of the original company on Broadway for the ground-breaking musical "Grease," Libonati is now sharing her unique experience and vision by directing the show, which will premiere at Waveny Park on Saturday, July 20, and run through Aug. 11.

"The show is so much fun," said Libonati, who in the 1970s played Sandy Dumbrowski -- and other cast roles -- opposite up-and-coming stars, such as Peter Gallagher, Patrick Swayze, Treat Williams and Adrian Zmed.

"It's not that different," Libonati, who also directs the Performing Arts Conservatory of New Canaan, said of appearing on Broadway. "It's just the location, really. It's the same way you prepare for it."

Reflecting on her time in the show on Broadway, Libonati said simply, "It was exciting. It was great."

As part of the revival on Saturday, July 27, there will be a special reunion performance to be attended by actors from the original eight-year Broadway run and national touring companies.

Knowing and loving the show so well, Libonati is thrilled to present it with a new generation of actors.

"It's young people that are the energy in it," she said, "and it's so much fun coming back to it."

She called the play "fairly simple," in part because so much of it is based on three-chord 1950s rock 'n' roll. At the same time, she praised its fast-moving structure, which Libonati said makes it feel like the play is over practically before it's begun.

"Melody has a great sense of what the story should be," said Sharon Malane, of New Canaan, who plays Sandy. "She manages to pinpoint the most important part of a scene to propel the story along."

Noting Libonati's encouragement and support, Malane said, "I think what makes this production special is that having Melody direct it. Having been in the original production, she has an experience of what the story was meant to tell. She has eliminated all the stereotypes that people assume about the show to help the characters become three-dimensional.

"Whatever watering down or additions that pop culture may have had on the story," largely stemming from the popular 1978 film featuring John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John, "she has cut through and injected the grit back into the story. She has refocused the real intention of `Grease,' " she said.

Ironically, Libonati's son, Christian, who is playing Danny Zuko, didn't see the movie for many years, even though he knew the original cast recording very well.

"While my mom loves the musical, she was never a big fan of the movie, so it wasn't one that we had in the house," he said.

But for Christian, who lives in Chicago, "It has been a blast delving into `Grease' with my mom at the helm. She has such an intimacy with the material and brings a great knowledge of how to tell this story."

At the same time, Melody Libonati emphasized wanting to give the actors room to personalize the roles to some extent, as they see fit.

"It's important that they feel that they're attached to it," she said, "that there's a purpose and interpretation for them."

She added that watching the actors do the show reminds her how "every character is very special to who they are" in "Grease."

"We've all met someone like them in high school ... and you love them."

Jarret Liotta is a freelance writer.