All dressed up and nowhere to go

Center Stage Theater may be losing its home at Merkaz Hamagshimim, but its latest production, 'Grease,' won’t be its swan song.

Grease 521 (photo credit: Raphael Poch)
Grease 521
(photo credit: Raphael Poch)
Grease, as the Center Stage Theater (CST) blurb notes, is one of the best-loved musicals of all time. However, as things stand, the show could be the last CST does, as the Englishlanguage theater company is losing its home at Merkaz Hamagshimim in the German Colony and as yet does not have anywhere to move to.
“CST has been there for 14 years but Hadassah, which owned Merkaz Hamagshimim, was heavily invested with Bernard Madoff and lost a lot of money,” explains Grease producer Rafi Poch. “So they sold off buildings around Jerusalem, including Merkaz Hamagshimim, and we have been the only occupants there for a while.”
If this is to be the CST’s last venture – the seven shows run from March 15 to March 30 at the Masorti School in Arnona – Poch and the rest of the gang intend to go out in style. This is a relatively lavish production for which CST has joined forces with fellow Jerusalem-based English-language theater outfit Encore.
“That’s one of nice things about working in this field,” says Poch.
“By and large, we all help each other out.”
Encore’s contribution to Grease includes helping with the sets and choreography, as well as providing some of the actors.
In fact, the CST-Encore production of Grease took some time to gestate before taking on corporeal form. “A girl named Liel [Zahavi-Asa], who had acted in a show put on by JEST [Jerusalem English-Speaking Theater], said she wanted to work with me. We later worked on [Broadway musical] 13 when she was the director, at the age of 17.
She was amazing and so involved in everything.”
Zahavi-Asa is on board for Grease, and the choice of the show was ultimately settled when then 17- year-old Joshie Trachtman, who did a lot of behind-the-scenes work on 13, suggested that CST do Grease.
“I thought it was a great idea but that it was a big production and would require finances. We had just put on a big musical.”
In the end Poch went for it, but he and the rest of the company had to get their skates on. “Joshie was due to go into the army in April – now that’s been postponed until July – and we managed to squeeze all the performances of Grease into March.”
After deciding on Grease, Poch needed to get some financial and hands-on support.
“I spoke to Encore and I told them, ‘We have a musical with kids and you are looking to get kids involved in your company, so why don’t we do this together?’ So Encore added another production to its repertoire, and I told them they didn’t have to do most of the work because I’ll be doing it. Of course, it also offers added revenue from the shows. They liked the idea. What I needed was the finances, and what they need was someone else to do it.”
Once the CST-Encore pact was in place, things started moving.
Actual work on the production began in mid-November and everyone got their noses to the grindstone, learning the lines, putting the sets together, making the costumes and working out the highly complex choreography.
“There’s a lot of choreography in the show,” says Poch, “but we’re all helping out. That’s what community theater is all about.”
Poch says that in artistic terms, they decided to go for broke. “There are four songs in the [1978] movie that aren’t originally in the [1971] play, but we got the rights and put them into our production. So we’ve got all the songs from both versions of Grease. Actually, some of the songs from the play that didn’t make it into the movie are really catchy, like one called “These Magic Changes,” which is about how one of the Greasers starts to learn how to play guitar. He’s not very good to begin with and the others make fun of him, but then he takes the spotlight and does a song that he does brilliantly.”
It sounds like there may be a lesson or two there. “There’s a definite educational element to Grease. It’s all about exploring yourself as a teenager, which we have all done or are doing.”
Poch says that despite the teenage-based storyline, the current production is for the whole family, even if there are some potentially challenging issues in there as well. “The story talks about unwanted teenage pregnancy and teenage angst, and there’s a lot of stuff in there that is pretty heavy, and there’s a lot of sexual innuendo. I loved the show when I was 10 and I saw the movie when I was 12.
The young kids won’t get half the stuff, but they’ll still enjoy it.”
Poch says the show has a cross-generational appeal and that he is expecting parents to be in the audience. “They will be coming and saying, ‘I saw this when I was 20 or 30. I loved it and I’m coming to see it.’ So we’re getting a nice mix of everyone. We’ve had bookings from families and groups of families, who are getting group booking discounts.”
And it’s not just a Jerusalem affair, he says. “We have people coming from Ra’anana and Ashdod and other places outside Jerusalem.
The hall has a capacity of 300. Actually 340, but we’re taking 40 seats out because they’re on the sides and the view isn’t great from there.
But we can always put them back in if there is the demand. That would be a nice ‘problem’ to have.”
Grease isn’t quite CST’s swan song at this point, with a production of Jewtopia scheduled for the English-language theater festival at Beit Avi Chai during Pessah. “I’m the artistic director of the festival,” says Poch, “but I have no idea what the future holds for CST after that. For now, we’re going to enjoy Grease.”
Performances of Grease will be held at the Masorti School at Rehov Betar 8 in Arnona on March 15, 22 and 23 at 8 p.m., and on March 24 and 30 at 5 p.m. and 8:30 p.m. For information and tickets: 052-603-9115 or