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A Work of Heart Productions is heading to a brand new theater.

Ridgedale Middle School Theater was recently renovated in June 2022 after months of construction beginning in 2021. However, it is not a new part of the school. The auditorium opened with the building of the school in the 1930s.

Michaela Harris, an eighth grade ELA teacher and drama club producer at Ridgedale Middle School, is one of the first people to see the new theater. “The first time I entered after they finished construction, I just gasped, it was beautiful,” Harris said.

Harris explained how the history of architecture played a role in the renovation. “Construction in the 1930s paid a lot of attention to things like woodworking accents and lighting,” Harris said. “The whole room just feels very well connected and planned down to the last detail.”

Some of the features of this theater are a coffered ceiling, which reduce sounds of unwanted noises, as well as a color scheme of gray, orange, and brown. Harris described the room as very bright and airy.

Harris explained how she is good friends with the directors of the show, Nicole Lippey and Angelo DeFazio. She explained how she is particularly close to DeFazio, who has directed many shows at the school in the past. “We’ve been working together for over a dozen years,” she said.

Harris’ role in the production of “Grease” is to act as a source of moral support for them and former students from Ridgedale Middle School. She also is helping out with small projects such as the accessories for the musical number “Beauty School Drop Out”. Harris took a shower cap and glued empty rolls of toilet paper and paper towels together and stacked them. To finish it off, she sprayed painted the rolls silver.

“This will be the first show that I am seeing in the new theater in Ridgedale,” Harris said. She also said that she was excited to watch her former students Emmy Henning, who will perform as Marty, and Mia Cicarelli, who will perform as Jan. “I think that’s awesome for them,” Harris said.

This renovation was part of a referendum project, which is when a school district asks for extra taxpayer money to rebuild something in order to prevent multiple minor repairs. According to the middle school’s website, “Many of the systems that are proposed to be replaced are past or at the end of their lives. These systems are essential to the operation of our school.”

Harris said that she is incredibly thankful that the Florham Park Board of Education supported this project, especially Superintendent Dr. Steven Caponegro and Business Administrator John Csatlos.

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Updated: Jul 3, 2022

Some performers have had the opportunity to perform as several iconic characters in musical theater. This summer, A Work of Heart student Joe Moschella is one of those people adding to his list.

Moschella, 21, is a Rowan University theater major with concentrations in musical theater and musical education and education minor. He will star as Danny Zuko in the company’s production of “Grease”. For the production company, he has portrayed Simeon in “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat”, Emmett Forrest in “Legally Blonde”, and Roger in a concert performance for “RENT”.

A high school student performing onstage. He is wearing a baseball cap, glasses, a bowtie, a button up shirt, a vest, and khakis
Moschella as Seymour in his high school’s production of “Little Shop of Horrors”

For Moschella, he had to face the challenge of learning choreography for the musical. However, he said he has grown in his confidence with every rehearsal. His favorite number to perform is “Greased Lightning”, a high-paced dance number performed by Zuko and his friends, the Burger Palace Boys.

“It’s definitely a lot of fun and everyone in the number has a lot of great chemistry,” Moschella said. He added that this number is like having a dance party with his friends in a car.

A Broadway influence on Moschella is actor Aaron Tveit, who has also portrayed Roger in productions of RENT and was Danny Zuko in FOX’s live production of “Grease.”

Moschella’s character sings well-known songs from the show such as “Summer Nights” and “You’re the One That I Want.” However, his character’s solo doesn’t come until the second half of the second act, which is “Sandy.”

Moschella explained how he always feels exhilarated when he sings this song. “It’s a very passionate meaningful song, and it always makes me happy when I get to put my own passion and meaning into a performance!” he said.

Moschella described that he has both similar and different parts of his personality to his character. He felt that some parts of the character are not as positive. As he put it, “I’m not as much of a slimeball.” On the other hand, Moschella admires that “Danny definitely has an overwhelming amount of confidence about him.”

“Grease” is notorious for its ending, which has appeared to many younger viewers as sexist because of Sandy’s transformation from conservative and a “goody goody” to a greaser girl clad in leather in order to win the affections of Zuko. “I am not a fan of the ending,” Moschella explained. “It’s kind of problematic.”

Moschella is a fan of songs from the era of “Grease”. He said that his favorite song from this time period is “Run Around Sue” by Dion. “I just love the whole doo wop feel about it,” Moschella explained. “It makes me happy!”

Of all of the aspects of the show, Moschella said he has enjoyed spending time with other people the most. “I have become very close with a lot of people in the cast and I’m very grateful for them,” he said. Moschella said he is very excited to perform this popular show.

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On Monday, February 14, 1972, the musical “Grease” opened off broadway. It had a much different reputation from the show that is known as today.

It was $20,000 in debt and had discomforting reviews from critics all over. However, the director of the show, Tom Moore pushed forward to see where the show would go, which went on to become the upbeat, joyful, and charismatic musical with iconic songs and dance numbers.

The underdog story is an example of what Grease is. This story has just become a compilation of memories titled “Grease: Tell Me More, Tell Me More”, full of tales from cast members, directors, and others.

An article on this book from the Associated Press describes the show’s 50’s nostalgia. “All successful musicals leave members with fond memories, but ‘Grease’ was different in that it was an ensemble musical that employed young actors all of roughly the same age — ideally, close to high school. It was often an actor’s first big break and that reflected the themes of the show,” the news service wrote.

Not only is the year of 1972 a historical time for “Grease”, but so is the month of June. The film of the same title opened on Friday, June 16, 1978 and earned a box office total of $36.2 million, which is over $250 million today.

Six happy young adults smiling and looking directly at the camera. They are wearing 1970's style outfits
John Travolta (center) in the Broadway cast of “Grease”

There is also an overlap in the history of this story. John Travolta, who is infamous in the film as Danny Zuko, was in the Broadway production as T-Bird Doody.

​"Grease Fun Facts"

1. Three songs from the film, “Grease”, “Hopelessly Devoted to You”, and “You’re the One that I Want” were never in the original Broadway musical. “Hopelessly Devoted” wasn’t even written until halfway through filming! Another song that was written for the movie was Danny’s solo, “Sandy”.

2. Potential cast members for Sandy were Carrie Fisher and Marie Osmond

3. Stars such as Jeff Conaway (Kenickie in the film), Richard Gere from the film “Pretty Woman”, and Patrick Swayze of “Dirty Dancing” have all portrayed Danny Zuko on Broadway

4. 50s star Elvis Presley was considered for the Teen Angel character who sings “Beauty School Dropout”, but he passed away during filming.

5. Although this is a high school show, the film’s cast members were older than their characters. The oldest lead actor was Stockard Channing (Rizzo) 31, and youngest were Dina Manoff (Marty) and Kelly Ward (T-Bird Putzie), both 19.

Director Angelo DeFazio explains how this show of friendship, love, and camaraderie affects all people.

“I think that this show has such an impact after 50 years because of what it makes people feel,” said DeFazio. He added that this musical is an ode to music from the 1950s and “a foundation for today’s music”, as well as that all people from all generations can relate to the characters and their plotlines.

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