By LAUREN KNIGHT
WEST WARWICK–Last weekend, the production of Grease at West Warwick High School wowed audiences when a 1946 Ford convertible appeared on stage.
According to MJ Langlais, the administrative assistant at Paul Bailey’s Collision Center in North Kingstown, the feat was accomplished by the collaborative efforts of Paul Bailey’s and the West Warwick Public School department.
One of the show’s directors, Richard Marchetti, explained that from their first day, the drama department began brainstorming to come up with ideas on how they could incorporate a car into the production.
“We thought of having the front of the car and we could make the rest with wood,” he said.
Marchetti said that they never expected they would end up using a real car on stage. Langlais added that Paul Bailey’s shared similar thoughts.
“It started off as, ‘wouldn’t it be neat if could build Greased Lightning?’ So we started looking for the parts to build it,” Langlais said.
They performed a Google search and located a vintage salvage center in Albert Lea, Minn. Langlais explained that Paul Bailey’s contacted the owner and within a half hour, received a call back.
“He said that he had a 1946 Ford shell that [he] could sell us,” she said.
Taking into consideration the West Warwick High School drama department’s limited budget, the owner gave them a “fantastic deal” and put the car on hold.
Then a week after Thanksgiving, two volunteers from Paul Baileys drove 3,000 miles to pick up the car. Upon return, Paul Bailey’s was faced with the task of transforming a “rusty shell” of a 1946 Ford four-door hardtop super deluxe into Greased Lightning.
“There were no seats, nothing in it. It was literally just the outside, rusty shell of a car,” said Langlais.
Volunteer teams from Paul Bailey’s worked nights and weekends after that day to build a replica of Greased Lightning for the school’s production, according to Langlais. She explained that the work they did was based on a four-by-six inch photo of the car printed from the internet.
The work included removing two of the back doors to make the car appear as though it was a two-door. In order to fit it on stage, they cut the car in half and then after some work eventually welded the two pieces back together. Langlais explained that each side of the car portrayed a different version for the show: one side was painted white with lightning bolts and the other was left appearing to be rusted over.
The biggest challenge, said Langlais, was ensuring the car was safe for the students to perform with on stage while still making the car look real. Since the car was split into two halves, they installed wooden seats on the inside.
“It was really a phenomenal transformation,” she said.
Marchetti said that when the cast first saw the car, they were “wowed.”
“Everyone’s jaw hit the ground. When we wheeled it onto the stage, the kids started clapping and screaming,” he said.
“It’s the highlight of the first scene,” he added.