Convent JB's Grease Musical

Danny Zuko and T-Birds with their car, Greased Lightning
Fifth-form students of SMK IJ Convent Johor Baru produced and presented their adaptation of the hit American musical film, “Grease,” working hands-on in the entire project, from conceptualisation to the planning and execution of various tasks to present three shows over a recent weekend.  From the loud applause and standing ovations at the end of each show, it was clear that this school project was a resounding success.  “This is what the girls will remember when they leave school,” said Geetha Nair, one of their teacher advisors as she watched the cast, crew and choir take their final bow.

Nicole Yong as Danny Zuko [Left] and Cailin Ho as
Sandy Olsson, in the lead roles
Last year SMK IJ Convent Johor Baru had the honour to be upgraded from a Cluster School to a High Performing School and is now numbered among the nation’s top 300 schools.  With a grant to run an activity to showcase the school’s niche areas, they considered how they could incorporate both academic and non-academic areas and decided to highlight the school’s award-winning choir and their forte in the English language.  In the last 2 years, the school organised English events like choir singing, choral speaking, public speaking and debates to hone the students’ skills in English and now they had to think of something else.

Lee Hui Zhen as Frenchy [Right], giving
her advice about boys, to Sandy
“Convent JB has earned its reputation as a “Singing School”, said Mrs S K Lee, another teacher advisor, “so we decided to combine our school choir and stage a musical in English in one big production.”  It was a unanimous decision among the teachers, and with the support of students and their parents, they started working together to select a musical story.  “At first we were cautious about picking the musical, “Grease”, because its content was too raunchy and had to be toned down but with the advice from former student, award-winning performing artist and acclaimed choreographer, Marion D’Cruz, the students went ahead with the project,” she added.

After the roles were cast late last year, rehearsals started in January.  While the choir first practiced separately, they soon joined the cast for combined rehearsals in the school hall.  For them, it was an absolute thrill and an unforgettable experience to rehearse in front of D’Cruz, now based in Kuala Lumpur, who came to give her professional input to help them perfect their presentation. 

Elizabeth Tang provided piano accompaniment
for the performance
“After this experience, the quiet students will become more self-motivated to excel in their studies,” said Lee, who has more than 26 years of teaching experience, convinced that as they discover their talents, students will gain more confidence in themselves.  Guided by the team of teacher advisors, students organised every aspect of the production with the help of a crew, in a host of responsibilities like coordinating the choir, backstage management, choreography, photography and graphic designing,.  While teachers Nor Aini Amin and Niaida Mohd Taib helped with coordinating the props design and backstage work, former teacher, Doreen Chan, even came out of her retirement to coach the school choir. 

Danny and Sandy singing, "You're the one that I want"
backed by the Convent choir
“My confidence has increased,” said Cailin Ho, 16, who played the role of Sandy Olsson, “especially after learning to get into my role and in particular when I was transformed into the greaser’s dream date.”  When she emerged in her black skin-tight costume in the finale, her transformation was so dramatic that there was a collective gasp from the audience.  Ho, who has formal training in music and ballet, was sure that the experience she gained from being in this show will help her in future stage performances.

Frenchy [3rd from Left] and the Teen Angel played by
Mariz Choo [3rd from Right] performing, "Beauty School
Dropout" with the Convent choir
“It’s a challenge for girls to act like boys and there were some awkward moments but they gradually got into their roles,” said Celine Choong who co-directed the show with Rachel Ong.  The fifth-formers, both aged 17, are in the Science stream but with a passion for the arts, they worked together to edit and adapt the script without sacrificing the original storyline.  The results of their collaboration was an entertaining and colourful musical set in the 1950s about teens in love, presented with songs, dance and the portrayal of familiar characters, reminiscent of the 1978 movie “Grease.”

Soloist, Tessa Tan, singing "Hopelessly Devoted to You" 

The key characters had their dialogues prerecorded in their own voices complete with animation and the right intonation and it was commendable that in the show, their lip-syncing with the recording was almost unnoticeable. 

While the recorded voices kept the dialogue clear, the choir singing and music from the piano accompaniment by Elizabeth Tang, was performed “live.”  It was also good that soloists were given the opportunity to showcase their singing talents when they sang the solo songs for several characters.

Souvenir merchandise like T-shirts and button badges
were sold at the foyer
It was interesting to observe how the cast and choir learnt their parts well and the way they went into character especially since “Grease” is from the 70s and not popular with the present generation.  But themes like boy-girl relationships, teenage love, school cliques, peer pressure and the need for acceptance are prevailing issues in every generation that should be wisely handled to guide youngsters to the right path. 

At the end of this project, it looked like the students not only improved their choir singing and English language skills but also learnt from the moral issues in this story.

The cast and choir in the exciting finale of Grease the musical
The Convent spirit was palpable throughout the show as seated among the audience were past principals, alumni and members of the Johor Royal family who were former students and now their children are also students with Convent JB.  After the cast and choir accepted the applause and took their final bow, they broke into raucous cheers to acknowledge the support of their principal and teachers.  And in the true Convent tradition, they rounded off the event by singing the school anthem with pride and passion.

A version of this article was published in The New Straits Times, Streets Johor on 9 May 2013

1 comment:

  1. I missed those days!by the way I was one of the backstage crews back then