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Column | Caitlin Clark adapts to life in the WNBA
Column | Caitlin Clark adapts to life in the WNBA
By James Carter, Staff Writer • June 20, 2024
Opinion | NHL needs to bring specialty jerseys back
By Jameson Keebler, Senior Staff Columnist • June 19, 2024
Opinion | Hold your elected officials morally responsible
By Livia LaMarca, Assistant Opinions Editor • June 18, 2024

Pittsburgh Musical Theater transports audiences to 1950s with ‘Grease’

Actors+perform+in+%E2%80%9CGrease%E2%80%9D+at+the+Byham+Theater+in+Pittsburgh.
Courtesy of Mark Polk
Actors perform in “Grease” at the Byham Theater in Pittsburgh.

In the historic halls of Pittsburgh’s Byham Theater, the air was alive with the iconic melodies and nostalgic charm of the 1950s. From March 7 to March 17, the venue became the vibrant stage for Pittsburgh Musical Theater‘s rendition of the classic musical “Grease.” 

Through the flowing costumes that breathe life into characters of yesteryear and the

electrifying beats of rock ‘n’ roll that reverberated through the air, PMT whisked audience members away to the iconic halls of Rydell High School. The musical chronicles the romance between the charismatic bad boy, Danny Zuko, and Sandy Olsson, a timid but sweet newcomer. 

Jeremy Eiben, the costume designer for “Grease,” said the creative process of designing costumes for the characters required a balance of accurate representation and historical inspiration. 

“To do my design the process, I begin by reading the script and getting to know each character,” Eiben said. “A lot goes into looking at research from the 1950s, and it’s important to stay away from looking at production photos and the movie, because the movie was loosely based on the ‘50s and more inspired by the ‘70s, which is when it was filmed.” 

He said that PMT’s rendition of the timeless musical blended traditional elements with a fresh perspective and innovative additions, especially in terms of his role as costume designer. 

“A lot of people take ‘Grease’ to be edgier, and I wanted to shift away from that,” Eiben said. “Instead, I looked at photographs and decided to bring actual people’s high school memories onto the stage. By copying what I’ve seen in yearbooks and photos, I simply strived to portray real people on the stage.”

Zanny Laird, the actress portraying Betty Rizzo, said while the musical exudes fun and lightheartedness through its joyful songs, it also delves into weighty societal issues prevalent during the 1950s, particularly regarding the roles of women in society.

“There’s so much fun and love in our production of ‘Grease’ but also hard hitting things that we try to tackle especially when it comes to things like the expectation of women during the time period,” Laird said. “I hope that people see that Rizzo very much tries to go against the grain and what was expected of women at the time. Sandy and Rizzo are like two sides of the same coin, and they realize that at the end.”

Laird said she felt connected to the role of Rizzo. She said the complexity of Rizzo made her fascinating to portray.

“I’ve always loved the role of Rizzo, and I’ve always been fascinated with the softness and the hurt that underlies the tough exterior of Rizzo,” Laird said. “A lot of Rizzo’s dark humor is very similar to my own, so that was really easy to tap into. I also understand what it’s like to be hurt and trying to put up a front, so approaching the character was easy because I have experience in being in pain on the inside and putting a hard shell on the outside.”

While finding resonance with her character brought Laird a sense of joy, it was the opportunity to collaborate with a dear friend on stage that elevated her experience. 

“The actor who played Kenickie is one of my best friends, so we both got very lucky, because if we didn’t have such a close friendship it would be very difficult to display that romance,” Laird said. “We both trust each other so much on the stage and feel so safe with each other, so it’s been one of the easiest times I’ve had with an actor on stage.”

Ellie Tongel, sophomore business major and member of the ensemble in the musical, said being in “Grease” while attending Pitt full time required a lot of time management and organization. 

“In college, all the work is up to you, it’s your responsibility to get things done, so I had to be really well time managed as a student in the show,” Tongel said. “I always had my backpack with me and any break I had, I got some work done.”

Tongel said despite her major being entirely unrelated to theater arts, her passion for performing empowered her to effectively manage her time and commit to both pursuits.

“I’m from the suburbs of Pittsburgh, and I grew up doing classes with the Pittsburgh Musical Theater, but that was four years ago,” Tongel said. “Theater has always been what I’ve enjoyed the most, and I knew that I would want to keep that no matter what I ended up doing. That factored into my decision to go to Pitt because the area has so many great opportunities to perform even if you’re not going to school for it.” 

Despite the demanding juggle of academic responsibilities alongside rigorous rehearsals, Tongel said she found solace in the rewarding moments of being under the spotlight. 

“I’m having the best time of my life, especially with the show being ‘Grease,’” Tongel said. “I get to be in all the fun musical numbers like ‘Born to Hand Jive’ and ‘We Go Together.’ Being together with everyone on stage turns your entire day around, and it’s truly the best feeling.” 

Despite the exuberance that permeated each performance, the journey to a successful opening night was fraught with challenges. Eiben said he encountered many struggles in costume design, including the intricate hand-sewing of detailed designs.

“‘Beauty School Dropout’ was the most challenging set of costumes to bring to the show,” Eiben said. “All the rhinestones that were seen, I hand-glued them down. In total, there were over 10,000 rhinestones glued down by hand. Teen Angel is my favorite costume; it was such a fun process to make the angel wings and rhinestone wings, but that alone took two days.”

Alexa Holleran, a local mental health specialist who attended the musical, said she feels a huge difference watching the “Grease” musical compared to the film. She said she always recommends watching a live performance of a show instead of a film since that allows for better connection to the characters. 

“I feel like when watching a play or a musical you get more emotionally involved than you would in a movie because everything is happening right in front of you,” Holleran said. “The emotions of the characters on a stage is something you can really feel when you’re watching a show live. I always loved Rizzo, and the person that’s playing her right now is really good and you can just feel that. The chemistry between her and Kenickie is another thing that you can see in musicals a lot more than movies, which just shows the value of catching a show live.”

About the Contributor
Nada Abdulaziz, Senior Staff Writer
Nada Abdulaziz is a senior majoring in Philosophy and Biological Sciences. She loves spending her free time reading, hiking, and watching Studio Ghibli films.