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Iconic musical comes to Broadway Rose Theatre stage



COURTESY OF CRAIG MITCHELLDYER/BROADWAY ROSE - Broadway Roses Grease, April 16-May 24, is full of Portland actors, including Kylie Clarke Johnson as Sandy Olsson and Peter Liptak as Danny Zuko.It was Saturday morning on the athletic field, and Sandy met Danny, and sparks flew.

Well, OK, it was somewhat platonically less dramatic when Kylie Clarke Johnson, who plays Sandy Dumbrowski in Broadway Rose Theatre’s upcoming “Grease,” met Peter Liptak, who plays Danny Zuko in the show — you know, the song-and-dance, 1950s high school guys and gals story made famous in the movie with Olivia Newton-John and John Travolta from way back in 1978. Johnson and Liptak played in the same Saturday morning pickup softball game, a routine gathering for Portland theater types.

“We’re friends first, and I feel that Peter and I have great stage chemistry,” Johnson says. “We have a mutual trust, and we go for it — no awkwardness or unfamiliarity.

“He’s a great scene partner; makes it easier for me to be better.”

They can argue in the show, and then dance happily to “You’re the One That I Want.”

Says Liptak: “We’re buddies. Last year she and my wife and I became friends playing softball together and doing auditions together. When we got our call-back for ‘Grease,’ we were goofing off in the lobby and went in to read and continued that chemistry.”

With “Grease,” and many of the Broadway Rose’s musicals, familiarity abounds, as Portland actors take part in shows by the 24-year-old Tigard theater company. Nine of the 15 actors in “Grease” are from Portland, including Johnson, Liptak, Claire Rigsby (Betty Rizzo) and Max Artsis (Kenickie). Because it’s outside of Portland, many city folks don’t know about Broadway Rose, but it puts on great shows — and, other than Stumptown Stages, not many theater companies put on musicals in the metro area. Broadway Rose has won 41 Drammy Awards and 26 Portland Area Musical Theatre Awards.

With such a strong theater company behind them, Rigsby says Portland actors bond.

“A lot of times you don’t know if you’ll love everybody, but we’ve bonded and really get along,” she says. “I was pleasantly surprised to get to know the new cast members. I love everybody else in ‘The Pink Ladies.’ I struggle with (Sandy) on stage because (Johnson’s) so great in real life.”

Broadway Rose, led by founding general manager Dan Murphy and producing artistic director Sharon Maroney, has a reputation for being efficient, well-organized and professional.

“Dan and Sharon, they’re wonderful people,” Rigsby adds. “I enjoy the energy here. They put on fun and exciting shows.”

Adds Liptak: “It’s the most positive environment I think I’ve ever been around. Sharon’s super sassy, but always positive and getting you to do your best. Dan, he’s very funny and positive. You show up and everyone’s rooting for each other. It’s almost weird, no one’s backbiting.”

Having been such a notable movie with iconic roles, the stage version of “Grease,” directed at Broadway Rose by Jacob Toth, attracted a lot of attention among actors. It’s different from the movie in many ways, including with more drama and backstories and fewer songs, but it’s fun, they say.

“The original play didn’t have songs like ‘Hopelessly Devoted to You,’ but they bought the rights,” Rigsby says.

Says Johnson, who had a “bad experience” with “Grease” in high school: “We were cast in October last year, and I was determined to create a new experience and fall in love with the music all over again. I grew to love it. The music is so exciting. The songs I get to sing go too fast, because I’m so excited.”

Adds Liptak: “I think we’re going to get a great audience. People who don’t know the play will equally have a blast and laugh and have a good time, and have shocking moments — ‘What, that’s not in the movie!’”

And, the roles are so distinctive, as depicted in the movie:

• Sandy, played by Newton-John — “I’m learning more and more about her every time we run it,” Johnson says. “I’m not sure I liked her before I started rehearsal. I tend to have a lot of moxie; it’s not my usual form to play a role more reserved. I’m having a lot of fun trying to find moments (of moxie) throughout the show, rather than have the abrupt change at the end, where’s she’s this sexy person.”

• Danny, who Travolta made famous — “It gives me anxiety every night,” Liptak says. “I was the opposite of this guy in high school — president of the audio/visual club, and I got cut from the baseball team. I was not Danny Zuko in high school. It’s one of the most iconic roles in musical theater.”

• Rizzo, played so well by Stockard Channing — “Rizzo is such a fantastic character,” Rigsby says. “She has that really sort of tough outside, but she’s got a lot going on underneath. She’s a complex and interesting character with her own struggles.”

• And, of course, the late Jeff Conaway as Kenickie — “I seem to get typecast a lot,” Artsis says. “I find it a lot of fun. I tend to thrive on the second lead and have fun with the role and make it my own. You go in with less expectations and you have the opportunity to steal moments. (Conaway) did a great job of relating levity with the role; the play makes (Kenickie) a little more of a serious guy than the movie did. But it’s fun for me to try to find areas in the play where you remember that he’s a 17-year-old kid — cool and everything, but he likes to have fun.”

“Grease” plays at the Broadway Rose New Stage, 12850 S.W. Grant Ave. in Tigard, 7:30 p.m. Thursdays-Saturdays, 2 p.m. Sundays, April 16-May 24. Tickets start at $30 for adults, with discounts available for groups and youth. For info: www.broadwayrose.org.

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