Stuart to put his own stamp on NSMT’s ‘Grease’
BEVERLY — “Grease” is an iconic American musical, a symbol of a time — America in the late 1950’s — when the music and dance scenes were exploding with pent-up energy in the years after World War II.
And as the show’s ageless score caught on, so did the production numbers that captured the dances of that decade, transitioning from the swing era to an era of doo-wop and rock ‘n roll.
The musical has never stopped running somewhere since its debut in 1971 and the subsequent successful film version in 1978 further cemented the show in the national consciousness. Mark Stuart is charged with choreographing “Grease” for the North Shore Music Theatre’s production from Aug. 12-24 , a new production for the theater, and he’s not going to tread the same path as his predecessors.
That’s not to say he’ll abandon the styles and the dances that were popular at the time.
“I try not to look at previous productions but I do watch what the dances of the time were and try to stay true to what the era looked like,” he said.
Stauart checked out old dances that were popular at the time, including the hully gully, the Madison, the Lindy Hop, swing , and the boogie woogie.
He should be pretty skilled at showing his dancers how to do the Lindy Hop — he counts among his many honors being a two-time American Lindy Hop Champion.
Stuart has experience working in the round at other theaters and at NSMT, where he was the associate choreographer for a critically-acclaimed production of “Swing!” — probably the first musical to primarily use dance as the narrative, and a show he is strongly identified with.
“The trick with choreography in-the-round is to keep it moving,” Stuart said. “No more than five seconds in one place.”
While the idea on the proscenium stage is to create “pictures,” in-the-round you’re try to avoid “pictures” because that means some audience member’s view is being blocked.
“It’s only tricky until you fully embrace working in the round,” he said. “It is a different theatrical experience. It’s nice to always be facing somebody.”
Stuart is a very busy man with many irons in a lot of fires. He currently appears in a Revlon commercial with Olivia Wilde, was recently featured in an exclusive performance for Madonna, and served as assistant choreographer for the world-premiere Broadway musical “Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown.”
Stuart is the recipient of a 2011 BroadwayWorld Award for Choreography for “The Wiz,” hailed by critics as “a work of art.”
His choreography and performances have been featured in films, TV, commercials, music videos, on Broadway, at Carnegie Hall, and Lincoln Center, and he is also a two-time Joseph Jefferson Award winner for Choreography for “Swing!” and “The All Night Strut,” and an LA Ovation Award nominee for Featured Actor in a Musical for “Swing!”
Stuart was devastated when he heard about the disastrous fire at the theater and then NSMT’s closing, and excited when new owner Bill Hanney re-opened the theater.
“I loved my time here and I had always hoped I could come back,” he said. “I’m thrilled it’s re-opened and doing so well.”
Stuart says the success of “Grease” comes from everything working together: the score, the story and the production numbers.
“It’s a great score and everyone can relate to it,” he said. “The characters are a bunch of outcasts in life but they’re people the audience falls in love with.”
Stuart is the founder, executive artistic director and many other things of the Mark Stuart Dance Theatre, where he proudly wears many hats and enjoys all of them.
“It’s a labor of love,” he said . “I train a talented bunch of people techniques and we tell stories. We’ve done mostly small events up to now, but we’ve put together a dance musical — ‘Standard Time’ — we hope to take to Broadway.”
His performance for Madonna was the result of an audition where he did something wacky and wonderful for a casting director for the star. “He said ‘we’ve never seen that before,’” Stuart said.
That’s what he hopes to bring to “Grease.”
Tickets for “Grease” are priced from $50 – $75. Performances are August 12 thru August 24, Tue -Thurs at 7:30 pm, Fri & Sat at 8 pm, matinees Wed, Sat and Sun at 2 pm. A performance has been added on Thursday, August 21 at 2pm. Kids 18 and under save 50% on ‘Family Fridays’- August 15 & 22 at 8 pm. For tickets and information call (978) 232-7200, visit http://www.nsmt.org, or visit the box office in person at 62 Dunham Rd., Beverly, MA.