Arrow-right Camera
The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

‘Grease’ is the word at the Spokane Valley Summer Theater, which is launching its summer season

By Ed Condran For The Spokesman-Review

One way to mark the 45th anniversary of the release of the film “Grease” is to kick off a run of the production of the beloved romantic comedy. Spokane Valley Summer Theatre will open its season Friday on the very day, June 16, when “Grease” debuted on screens in 1978.

“It’s a great way to not only honor ‘Grease’ but to honor Olivia Newton-John as well,” director Yvonne A.K. Johnson said.

Newton-John, who played Sandy, the female lead in the film “Grease,” died in August. “It’s still hard to believe that she’s gone,” Johnson said. “She was a huge part of the classic high school musical.”

Although set in the 1950s, the musical’s themes are timeless. “ ‘Grease’ is so relatable no matter the era,” Johnson said. “There’s love. There’s self-doubt. It’s about wanting to be liked and insecurity. There’s a sense of belonging, looking for approval with peers. There are teens making adult choices, such as smoking and drinking. And then there is the pregnancy scare with the character Rizzo. It covers what happens with every generation.”

And it’s met in song. There are a number of iconic tunes from “Grease.” There’s the bouncy “You’re the One That I Want,” the feel good “Summer Nights” and the ballad of loyalty, “Hopelessly Devoted to You.”

“That song was written for Olivia Newton-John and wasn’t planned for the movie,” Johnson said. “When they cast her as Sandy, there was no music, no vehicle song for her but the song that was written for her was used and it fits perfectly.”

“Grease,” which runs through July 2, isn’t the most common theatrical production since the cost of the songs is prohibitive for some theatrical companies. “Grease” isn’t performed that often in regional productions,” Johnson said. “It’s quite expensive to produce. The cost is quite a bit higher than average for a musical. But we’re able to make it work.”

Most of the actors in the Spokane Valley version of “Grease” are in their teens and early 20s. Noelle Fries, who stars as Sandy, has been a local actress for a decade. Fries, 17, has played children throughout her career but is excited about portraying a senior at Rydell High, class of ’59.

“I’ve always played the little girl parts,” Fries said. “I’m transforming into this woman, playing the lead role and love interest in this show and it’s so exciting. I’m so excited to be part of an iconic show that is so nostalgic for so many people.”

It’s a challenging role for the rising senior at Lewis & Clark High School. “It takes a lot of stamina to play Sandy,” Fries said. “There’s costume changes, where you have a minute to make the change. There’s wig changes, makeup and a lot of dancing but it’s fun. It’s not a chore. This is what I love to do.”

Fries, who has 19 productions on her résumé, including “Into the Woods,” “Oliver” and “Les Miserables” loves the songs and story of “Grease.” “There really is nothing like this show,” Fries said. “I’m thrilled with everything that this show is about.”

Johnson feels the same way. “It’s a great way to kick off a season,” Johnson said. “We have so much more on tap.”

“Bright Star,” the musical written and composed by Steve Martin and Edie Brickell, which is set in the Blue Ridge Mountains in the mid-1940s and early 1920s, is slated to run July 14-23. “We are incredibly excited about presenting such a wonderful musical,” Johnson said. “The melodies are beautiful and the characters are powerful. It’s a beautiful show based on a true story.”

Johnson will direct “Bright Star,” while Collin J. Pittman will call the shots on the production of Jimmy Buffett’s “Escape to Margaritaville.” The regional premiere, which is set for Aug. 4-20, is a comedy about the choices folks make. Buffett’s classic tunes, such as “Margaritaville,” “Cheeseburger in Paradise” and “It’s Five O’ Clock Somewhere” are part of the show.

“It’s a fun production,” Johnson said. “The songs are terrific and so is the story. This is going to be a great summer.”

It’s just a prelude to next summer. The Spokane Valley Performing Arts Center is projected to open June 3, 2024. “The proscenium walls are already up,” Johnson said. “It’s coming to life. There is so much to look forward to here at the Spokane Valley Summer Theatre, this summer and next summer.”