The 1950s teen musical Grease will be performed outside.
Like other theater companies in Metro Detroit, the Jewish Ensemble Theatre (JET) is returning to the live stage — only moved outside with a musical production planned to attract family audiences.
Grease, a romp about 1950s teens and the issues they face, features a cast numbering more than 20 and spotlights songs, played by a live band, that became popular beyond the show — “Shakin’ at the High School Hop,” “Freddy My Love” and “Summer Nights.”
It will be staged Friday-Sunday, Aug. 27-29, on the grounds of the Walled Lake Farmers Market. Kevin Keller takes the part of Eugene, the class valedictorian, a supporting role in the show created by Jim Jacobs and Warren Casey. The main characters, Sandy and Danny, are played by Sarah Kmiec and Grant Cleveland.
“Grease is just a ball of energy from start to finish so it’s a really nice step back into theater,” said Keller, 24. “We’re having a great time as a cast and glad to be outside in the summer. Beyond this production, I’m drawn to supporting parts that round out the show’s environment while the leads go off and do their heavy lifting.”
Before graduating Wayne State University in 2020 as a theater major, Keller had been featured in the JET production Shame, which is one of the anti-bullying plays presented to groups of young people, and he is glad to be moving on to a mainstage show in addition to retaining that element of JET.
Keller, who lives in Sterling Heights, was introduced to theater participation by a teacher at L’Anse Creuse High School–North. She asked if he would like to audition for a program that combined English and acting studies, and he entered his path for the future.
“I’m attracted to theater by the collaborative process and getting to engage with a different person by developing a character,” he said. “I’m always the most thrilled when I’m creating together with others. The art of theater speaks to me in a way that no other art form has.”
In working at JET, Keller also feels a connection to his Jewish roots explored only recently. He learned about some religious traditions through Hillel programs at Wayne.
Keller’s most recent professional acting work has been in High School Musical at the Ringwald Theatre in Ferndale and It’s a Wonderful Life at the Riverbank Theatre in Marine City.
Also a writer, he has had two plays produced through Wayne State programming: Something Gay: A Brief Hookup, which is about relationships and online dating, and Front of the House, which was a Zoom presentation about restaurant workers on the last day the restaurant is in business.
“The first time I actually directed and wrote was for the outdoors,” said Keller, whose day job has to do with freight forwarding, making sure that goods are handled according to customs regulations.
“I self-produced a new translation of Spring Awakening performed in a courtyard at Wayne State. It was part of my thesis, but it was not attached to the university. Doing outdoor theater is a fun experience because there are the elements that also need attention.”
The musicians setting the play to music appeared for JET’s production of Cabaret — Stacy White (keyboards), Lee Cleaveland (guitar), Kevin DeClaire (saxophone), Jake Andrzejewski (bass) and Sam Andrzejewski (drums).
“I’m excited to be outside for our first professional show since the pandemic and glad it is in conjunction with the Walled Lake Downtown Development Authority,” said Christopher Bremer, JET executive director. “What better way to end the summer than with community involvement?”
If it rains on Friday, audience members, asked to bring their own chairs, will be given tickets for Saturday. If it rains on Saturday, the tickets will be for Sunday. If it rains on Sunday, audience members can use their tickets for another upcoming production — The Rocky Horror Show (Sept. 30-Oct. 24), Same Time, Next Year (Nov. 4-28), The Full Monty (Dec. 9-Jan. 2) and Amadeus (March 18-April 10).
“It’s been incredibly difficult during the pandemic even with Zoom readings,” Bremer said. “Theater is meant to be live in front of people gathering and having a shared emotional experience.
“Still, we are very proud of one Zoom program we took to youngsters in other states who otherwise may not have the opportunity to ask questions about the Holocaust. It was an interactive experience with an actress portraying Anne Frank in hiding.”
As Bremer looks forward to a return to live theater and the music of Grease, he said, “I’m hoping people get up and dance.”
Grease will be performed at 8 p.m. Friday-Saturday, Aug. 27-28, and 7 p.m. Sunday, Aug. 29, at the Walled Lake Farmers Market, 1499 E. West Maple Road. $16-$20. Bring your own chairs. Food and beverages on sale. (248) 788-2900. jettheatre.org.