Residents can ride a wave of grease lightning to Musical Theater West’s (MTW) next revamped production of “Grease.”
The iconic Broadway production will receive a modern and more inclusive makeover for its 50th anniversary, one complete with a pair of performances by multi-talented drag queen Jackie Cox, otherwise known as Darius Rose.
Cox appeared on season 12 of “RuPaul’s Drag Race”, as the first queen of Iranian descent and placed fourth during her season. However, prior to her cross-dressing life, she earned a Bachelor of Arts in Theater from UCLA and performed in a number of Southern California theater productions such as ‘Light in the Piazza’, ‘Hedwig and the Angry Inch”, “Big River”. “Les Miserables” and “Godspell”.
Cox will grace the stage as Teen Angel, telling Frenchie to stay in school and avoid being a “dropout” in one scene, then return as strict English teacher Ms. Lynch, who is desperately trying to apply the rules to the school dance.
No stranger to performing, Cox said she would draw inspiration from some of her favorite ’50s divas for her Teen Angel performance, as well as her own personal struggles. Some of her influences include Jane Russel, Roasalind Russel, Joan Crawford and Bette Davis, “just to keep Frenchy on her toes,” Cox said.
She recalled her first year in New York after growing up in Southern California as “difficult, confusing and sometimes lonely”, until she found her place in the drag community.
“Drag saved me from that and I have to thank the queens who showed me the ropes and taught me so much about the art, the passion, drag and what it means to be part of a community artistic,” Cox said. “I remember seeing [drag queen] Peppermint at my very first drag show I attended in New York and I was completely blown away by how she could command an audience, plus she sang her own songs. It was amazing and extremely inspiring to me.
MTW will attempt to create a similar environment of acceptance for customers through an entire cast that has been carefully selected to deviate from the all-white portrayal of the original production of Sandy Dumbrowski and Danny Zuko’s love story.
While the show will follow the Broadway production’s script and feature songs from the 1978 film, the characters will be “inclusive and reflective of our world,” said show director Snehal Desai.
“I think what often happens with things that take place in ancient, specific times in this country is that we forget about the diversity that was there. So Asian Americans here on the west coast in southern California in the 50s and 60s [had] quite a big presence,” Desai said. “I wanted to make sure we reflected the community.”
Desai explained that most members of the company come from multicultural backgrounds and some identify as non-binary. He said the “very gendered” world the play takes place in will be revisited through “a bit of a modern lens”.
His goal of making the production more inclusive is what led him to cast Cox as two separate characters on the show.
“I love this idea of having Jackie play both tracks. Being Miss Lynch, that kind of dull teacher, and then contrasting that with a really beautiful, glamorous look in Teen Angel,” Desai said. “And she was very playful when we reached out.”
Cox’s role in “Grease” will be a kind of homecoming for her after many years in New York. Between two harsh words of love for Frenchie, she said she was looking forward to seeing Executive Suites and Hamburger Mary’s again, two Long Beach restaurants that feature drag performances.
She is also looking forward to being back in the city where she said she attended her first Pride celebration as a high school student.
“I remember feeling embraced by such a beautiful, vibrant queer community,” Cox said. “I remember as a youngster how important it was to me to see this diversity somewhere other than a gay bar… so hopefully this production will be another beacon for young people. I want them to know they belong in this city and this community, no matter who they are or who they love.
Production of MTW’s “Grease” will run July 8-24 at select dates and times at the Carpenter Performing Arts Center on the Cal State Long Beach campus. Tickets range from $20 to $96 and can be purchased by visiting https://musical.org/upcoming-events/ or calling 562-856-1999.