East Peoria Community High School musical: Grease March 28-30

Jeanette Kendall TimesNewspapers
Jordan Cruse, left, who plays Danny in East Peoria Community High School's spring musical “Grease,” practices his singing. To the right is director Damon Hackett. Kayvon Emtiaz plays the piano.


When: 7:30 p.m. March 28-29 and

2 p.m. March 30

Where: East Peoria Community High School, 1401 E. Washington St.

Tickets: Tickets at the door are $6 for adults and $4 for students who do not attend EPCHS.

The cars. The hair. The satin and leather jackets. The dancing. The music. Danny and Sandy.

Of course, it’s “Grease,” and those around in 1978 likely saw the movie multiple times, had the album and memorized most of the song’s lyrics.

Now, they can sing along again with students at East Peoria Community High School as they perform “Grease” as the spring musical March 28-30.

Damon Hackett, the bookkeeper/payroll coordinator at EPCHS, directs the school musical. It’s his third year being involved with the school’s musicals. Prior to that he was involved with Eastlight Theatre for 11 years.

In choosing Grease, Hackett said, “I kind of think ‘Grease’ is a show that high schools should do once in a while. Part of the reason why I did it was, we graduated so many kids last year that I felt like we needed to do something that was going to energize the kids.”

Twenty-six seniors performed in last year’s musical “Footloose.”

“So half of the show from ‘Footloose’ last year graduated, so that made me a little bit nervous as far as wanting to do something that would drive more kids in,” Hackett said.

But, he’s not too worried because of the movie’s popularity.

“I think everybody knows ‘Grease,’ but the kids, they’re not as familiar with it as kids were 10 years ago,” he said.

There is also a nostalgic value for Hackett. In 1988 as a junior at EPCHS, he was in his first performance — “Grease.”

The stage show, high school musical and movie “Grease” all have differences. 

“Everybody is much more familiar with the movie, so when they come to see the stage show, they might say, ‘Wait, that wasn’t in the movie,’” Hackett said. “We’ve tried to take the best of both parts and blend them together.”

Obviously, the car race is not in the musical. Some of the music is also different.

“In the movie, it ends with ‘You’re the One that I Want.’ Everybody knows that song. That song’s not even in the stage show,” Hackett said.

This was due to the licensing company, which Hackett said eventually started to allow schools to use some of the songs.

“So, we are using the 

song ‘You’re the One that I Want,’” he said.

Hackett said he is most excited about the dancing in the production.

“Erica Fleming is our choreographer and she does amazing work,” he said.

Steve Cordle, the director at Eastlight Theatre, did the sets and lights for “Grease.”

This year, many of the students are brand-new to a stage show. Hackett said of the 15 principle characters, about five have been on stage before. About 75 students tried out for the musical and 50 are in the performance.

“All of our T-birds, this is the first time that they’ve ever done a musical, and that’s pretty exciting because we had a lot of new kids come out to try something new for the first time,” Hackett said.

One of those students is Casey McWhirter.

McWhirter, a senior, said he is in the musical to prove that he can do it.

“I had a couple kids at school tell me I couldn’t do it, and I like to do things when someone tells me I can’t do it, and Mr. Hackett seemed like he has a lot of fun with it,” McWhirter said. 

McWhirter, who is a wrestler, said being in a musical is kind of going out on a limb for him, but he said he’s having fun.

“I was kind of worried how my wrestling buddies were going to take to this, but you know, I decided I didn’t care what they thought and it would be fun and just roll with it,” he said.

McWhirter said he and the character he plays, Sonny, are very similar. Sonny is known as a goofball.

“Me and Sonny are very similar. I feel like I might be a little smarter than Sonny, though. I’ve never been flunked,” he said.

Singing was a challenge for McWhirter, but dancing came natural he said due to moving in wrestling.

“Getting the movements down weren’t too hard,” he said. “I can’t wait for March 28. It’s going to be a heck of a night. Hopefully, there will be a lot of people there.”

Senior Justyce Blankenship plays Marty. 

“She’s the beauty of the Pink Ladies. She’s kind of funny sometimes, witty. She’s overall a good character. I think I mesh with her pretty well, too,” Blankenship said.

Blankenship was in her first musical last year during “Footloose.” She is bringing some of what she learned last year to the stage this year.

“You have to get into it and become the character. I learned a lot last year about how I had to be a completely different person than who I really was,” she said.

Jordan Cruse plays Danny, John Travolta’s character in the movie. Being in a lead role, Cruse said he may be nervous initially.

“But once I get confidence going during the performance, I feel like it will make me that much better in going into the next scenes,” he said.

To get into character, Cruse will have to grease his hair back and put on a leather jacket.

“I’m going to have to get (my hair) trimmed. It’s a little shaggy right now,” he said.

Cruse has been spending a lot of time singing.

“I probably have the most numbers, me and Marissa (Corder) plays Sandy, who is Sandy. So, we’re working to get those together to make sure to act your part even when you’re singing,” he said.

Cruse said the most challenging part is “making it real for the audience.”

“There is a kissing scene and I have a girlfriend, so that will be awkward, kind of, but I mean, we’ll get it done,” Cruse said.

Cruse added that he is excited to get on stage and show his fellow students, parents and the community his acting skills, something he has never done before.

Hackett said the choice of Cruse as Danny was an easy one.

“It was a no brainer with Jordan. I just kind of knew he had the look. He played that role the best, and Jordan is a tenor, and the role of Danny is a tenor,” Hackett said.

“It’s going to be a good show,” Cruse said. “I feel like the cast we have together, we work well together because we pretty much all know each other. When we’re out there, we’re just having fun. It will show when we’re performing.”

“It’s hard to go wrong with “Grease,” Hackett said.


When: 7:30 p.m. March 28-29 and

2 p.m. March 30

Where: East Peoria Community High School, 1401 E. Washington St.

Tickets: Tickets at the door are $6 for adults and $4 for students who do not attend EPCHS.