One of this writer’s favorite plays includes “Grease” – a fast-paced musical driven by a rock and roll beat that achieved critical acclaim and attracted scores of devoted fans to both of its versions, on stage and on the screen.
However, for many African Americans, the 1950s-based play about 10 working-class teenagers – all white – who seek to navigate the challenges associated with peer pressure, politics, personal values and love in their segregated community – while perhaps entertaining, failed to provide few, if any similarities or connections to the lives and experiences of Blacks.
But now, with a talented team offstage and a strong cast, guided by Dr. Lovail M. Long Sr., the playwright, DC Black Broadway will present a creatively-revised version of the popular musical, “Grease with a Side of Mumbo Sauce.”
The all-Black cast will take the stage at the Bethesda Blues & Jazz Club for three nights, Aug. 29 – 31 and then for a return performance, Sept. 24 -25. And this time, it’s set in the late 1980s in D.C. with music – that’s go-go, naturally – dancing, fashion and energy that celebrate, without apology, the pride and richness of D.C. culture.
If you remember the film version of “Grease,” then imagine its lead characters, Olivia Newton-John (recently deceased) and John Travolta, replaced by the multi-talented Khristena Eulalia as Candy, the good girl and D.C.’s own Frank “Sirius” Marshall as Disco Dan, the cool, tough guy.
The two embark upon a summer romance, then, much to their surprise, meet again at the same high school the following fall for their senior year. Things come to a head when two “surprise” celebrity DJs have the entire cast battling for the highly desired crown at the high school dance contest.
Lisa Renee Marshall, an accomplished actor, serves as the director of the production – her first time at the helm of a musical.
“It’s a challenging job but also very rewarding because we have a phenomenal team,” she said. “I cannot wait to see Lovail’s vision come to life. Personally, it will take me back to my youth because I grew up during the 80s and I remember the days when go-go first appeared on the scene.”
She added that in her multiple roles with DC Black Broadway, she hopes to one day be a leading voice at a local drama academy to develop and prepare today’s youth for opportunities in the theater.
Local social media phenomenon and producer, Poet, joins the cast in her first stage production. She, too, said she remembers the vibrancy of life in the District during the 1980s. And while this will serve as her debut to the theater, she said she’s ready for action.
“What I like about DC Black Broadway is its willingness to open doors for anyone who has the courage to take on the unfamiliar and the drive to work hard,” Poet said. “Look, I am not the kind of girl that you normally see in society’s spotlight and that doesn’t bother me at all. I’ve studied my lines and I am so impressed with this phenomenal script – this love letter. I’m ready for the curtain to go up.”
DC Black Broadway continues to be on the lookout for talent and new faces to add to their ensemble. Saudia Jenkins, who serves as the play’s assistant director and choreographer, knows the challenges that actors will face when they attempt to make the leap from local productions to the lights of Broadway.
“Our company provides everyday people with opportunities to shine and the training they’ll need as they prepare to go after their dreams,” she said. “But the barriers of size, shape, color and other forms still exist. But with this production, as always, DC Black Broadway showcases actors and artists who have committed themselves to our development zone and have proven themselves ready.”
Long, who co-wrote the play with his wife, Angelique, who wears other hats for DC Black Broadway including vice president of operations, set design and company co-founder, said the idea for this revised version of “Grease” came after he watched the hit play dozens of times and found it all but impossible to identify a character of color.
“D.C. has a rich and vibrant culture and I wanted to show that in this play – you know, the magic and the mumbo sauce that makes us who we are – that makes us unique,” he said. “As for the score, it’s 90% go-go music and we have real musicians from the D.C. community who are part of the cast which we think will be both exciting and certainly entertaining.”
As for his leadership at the helm of DC Black Broadway, Long said it’s all about remaining committed to the vision and being willing to release the past and to embrace the future.
“Look, I know how easy it is to be attracted to the fast life, to street life and I know the dangers our youth will face and the consequences that they may have to pay because of their actions,” he said.
“But here at DC Black Broadway, I’m doing my best to inspire the next crop of writers and actors and directors. Theater is a lane that Blacks don’t often see as a possibility in their life. I didn’t when I was growing up in Southeast. But I want today’s youth to realize that it is possible. And they can make it,” Long said. For tickets, visit www.dcblackbroadway.com or www.bethesdabluesjazz.com.