An exclusive look inside the greasy, rambunctious cast and creative team

By James Jiang, Features & Op-Eds

Image Credit: James Jiang Hart House, Grease Production

In the beginning, there was the script. It was formless and empty. Then, the Trinity College Dramatic Society (TCDS) said, “Let there be Grease,” and there was Grease. On February 8–10, the TCDS created and presented its production of Grease and all of its beautiful sins.

Set in the 1950s, Grease is a story of teenage identity, high school drama and friendships, and—most critically—the enduring power of young love and romance. The musical follows the adventures of the too-cool-for-school “Burger Palace Boys” and chain-smoking “Pink Ladies.” Grease revolves around the romance between high schoolers Danny Zuko and Sandy Olsson as they navigate life at Rydell High, all set against a backdrop of rock ‘n’ roll and doo-wop classics.

Before the Feb 8–10 shows, I received an exclusive insider on Grease through interviews with four cast and creative team members: Luis Sanchez, Shunsho Ando Heng, Joseph Chiu, and Deslyn Bach. 

As Grease’s director, Luis Sanchez—a creative from Mississauga, Ontario—was the one-man show that made the musical possible. He spearheaded Grease’s pitch, budget, and rights acquisition, holding all responsibility for casting, hiring, and so on. Grease was Sanchez’s brainchild, and it was his six months of work that culminated in the production’s essentially sold-out status. According to Sanchez, this particular cast was special because everyone came from diverse backgrounds of acting, all equally committed and willing to produce something special. He added, “Everyone gets along and is just good friends with one another. We’re able to relate to each other as people and professionals. It’s like a little family.” Additionally, in contrast to other productions that shy away from the raunchiness of Grease, Sanchez’s version does not shy away from the raunchy bits—including drinking, smoking, insults, and intimacy. He doubles down and makes these original themes as overt as possible. Touching on what he wanted to evoke in the audience, Sanchez noted how he wanted “as much as a spectacle as possible” and for students to be “pleasantly surprised at the level of production value and performance out of a student group.” Put differently, he wanted audience members to be happy leaving the theatre—that they got their money’s worth. 

As a jack-of-all-trades, Shunsho Ando Heng was cast member Doody, technical director, lighting designer, and co-stage designer. As a Theatre and Drama Studies student, Heng developed his passion for theatre in Singapore. Heng oversaw a mixed bag of production areas: sounds, lights, costumes, make-up and hair, props, stage management, and everything tech-related—all of which are in addition to his role as Doody. In terms of his vision for costumes and the set, Heng noted how “the fun part of the 1950s Grease period is the colours.” He leaned into tacky stripes, bright patterns, and jarring and surreal colours to give audience members a taste of the 50s. In consideration that this was a student production, Heng is thrilled to have been able to produce an authentic Grease look with the rest of the creative team. He is also proud of the seriousness and professionalism of the overall production. Beyond Grease, Heng strives to expand diversity in the arts and continue pushing for the next level and making his work—including his acting and stage work—even bigger and better. 

A well-known name in the theatre community, Joseph Chiu played the leading role of Danny Zuko—the charismatic leader of the “Burger Palace Boys.” As a budding actor, Chiu is an Economics and Drama student at the University of Toronto. In his acting, he listens and prepares but is also open to in-the-moment impulsiveness, always seeking to learn more tricks of the acting trade. According to Chiu, he made for a good Danny “because [he] played sports and did choir in high school, but did not fit into the conventional jock stereotype and had to constantly change between how [he] presented [himself] to [his] boys and how [he] actually feels.” This gave Chiu the insight and duality to properly play Danny’s character, who similarly had to switch between fakeness and reality. He also attributes his physical acting, sense of humor, and Asian background as special perspectives he adds to Danny. In preparation for his role, Chiu studied John Travolta—who played Danny—in the 1978 Grease movie and travelled to the West End in London to watch the professional show. Regarding his portrayal of Danny, Chiu felt that he was able to embody the character but wished that he could have shown Danny’s vulnerable side better, especially during his solo song.  

Deslyn Bach played the role of Betty Rizzo—the angry, sassy, and misunderstood leader of the “Pink Ladies.” As a graduate of the prestigious Randolph College for the Performing Arts, Bach is a Toronto-based actor. Typically typecast as the antsy teenage girl, Bach made for a good Rizzo because of her previous acting experiences and ability to show her emotions on the stage. This provided Bach with the necessary acting chops to portray Rizzo, a complex yet stereotypical character boiling with emotions. In preparation for her role, she turned to her long history with Grease: “Grease is one of those shows that everyone knows about. I’ve seen it many times and knew it well.” Bach also had a short stint with another Grease production a few years ago, when she was supposed to portray the musical’s Patty Simcox before COVID-19 cancelled the production. Offering a window into her character, Bach noted how Rizzo goes beyond the typical mean girl. Rizzo is mean and sassy, but there’s more to her than just shutting people down and being rude: she has a deeply vulnerable side and desires to be understood, as showcased by her pregnancy announcement at the end of Grease. On this front, Bach was able to showcase Rizzo’s complexity and range of emotions. 

Beyond these selected interviews, I also got to witness the behind-the-scenes rehearsal process. At the baseline, Sanchez’s testimony was genuine. The Grease cast and creative members were cohesive and a well-greased team; they were indeed like a little family that ran an organized and multi-tiered rehearsal process. What surprised me was the professionalism. There was a sternness and maturity while rehearsal was happening—I even got shushed for being too loud while asking questions to cast members. 

When show day arrived, Sanchez and the rest of the cast and creative team’s work paid off. Grease was essentially sold out on all days and was well-received by audience members. Of course, however, there were hiccups and mistakes along the way. The rehearsal process got messy at times and tech was a key production challenge, as noted by Sanchez and Heng. Moreover, Chiu explained how there were frictions—which, of course, were ironed out—during rehearsal production. The February 8–10 live showings were also met with a few challenges: there were sound problems, slight plot ambiguities, and—at least during the closing night when I attended—audience members who were overly rowdy and loud. 

But the little things—these hiccups—don’t matter. The overwhelming consensus was clear: the TCDS’s Grease production was loved. What matters most is how the audience feels. My Grease experience attests to this. Seated intimately next to one another in the corners of Hart House Theatre, my friends and I had fun. We laughed. We were shocked. We got sad. We felt emotions. We hummed the soundtrack as we left Hart House. Grease left a lasting impact on us. It did so for other audience members too. Sanchez’s vision came through—and it was well-greased. 

Chiu’s words are relevant: “It’s the beautiful sins—like the rehearsal challenges, unavoidable slip-ups, and other frictions—that gave life to our production.” Everything added to the grease that made Grease successful—even the hiccups. 

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *