High school girls from the Atlanta Jewish Academy will be performing “Schmaltz!” for their annual Chagiga production Feb. 3-4. A Jewish parody of the popular musical “Grease,” the show is written, produced, directed, and acted by girls of AJA.
The plot of the show parodies the original musical: two friends, Shaindy and Dina, meet at camp and one arrives at a new high school, leading to surprise as they discover they are now students at the same school. Mirroring the famous contrast of 1950s greasers with Sandy’s innocent demeanor in “Grease,” one friend is part of a group of rougher girls called the “Tuffs,” while the other is friends with sweeter girls, called “Preps.” “Follow the Tuffs and the Preps, in their denim and leather, their pom-poms and pigtails, as they crack witty jokes and sing and dance their way through their last year at Chai-dell High,” according to the light-hearted program description of the show.
Tension arises between the groups as the girls try to reconcile their friendship and navigate peer pressure and conformity. “It’s really going to be fun,” said Simonie Levy, Chagiga’s adviser and performing arts director at AJA. “You’ve got the pink ladies who have got the pink jackets and then kind of 1950s style with the big skirts and shirts, just fun and cute.”
Chloe Karpel, Chagiga director and AJA senior, thought of adapting “Grease” because the musical resonates with everyone. “Choosing ‘Grease,’ I wanted to do something that had amazing, colorful, bright costumes and recognizable songs, and something that everybody can recognize and have fun with,” she said. “I had a few options but in the back of my mind it was always ‘Grease.’”
Often Chagiga parodies various popular musicals, but for the last couple of years the girls created their own script and adapted music to fit the show, Karpel said. This year, rather than write a totally new plot, Karpel really wanted to get back to Chagiga’s Broadway parody roots.
“When I was trying to come up with the idea of what we were going to do for this year, I wanted to ask around, ask people what they’d want to see. And I got a lot of people who wanted to see that old tradition come back and see the parody – the fun, the light, the happy, the colorful – come back onto the stage,” Karpel said.
Karpel has been involved in theater for several years, but this is her first time having a leadership role. “I loved watching [theater], listening to show tunes, and my mom was pretty big in introducing it to me. I just fell in love with it at that point,” she said. Karpel’s first experience on stage was in middle school, when she was cast as Miss Hannigan in her school’s production of the Broadway musical “Annie.” After that, she went to performing arts camp, became involved in community theater, and helped as stage manager for a middle school play. Writing and directing Chagiga has pushed Karpel’s theater skills into new territory. “Being a director, especially since I’m the same age as a lot of people I’m leading, is a little tough. But it’s also so rewarding when I get to see my work and my directions come to life on the stage,” she said. “There are ups and downs. There are times when it’s tricky telling people what to do when you are on the same level.”
The show is entirely created and produced by the girls of AJA’s upper school, including a crew that was involved in set painting, a technical crew that works with lights and sound, and a backstage crew responsible for moving set and props on and off stage. All the girls have to work with each other to execute the performance, including advertising and setting up opening night.
“I’m extremely proud of everybody who’s a part of this show, who’s participating, who’s working so, so hard to make this incredible. The cast members, the producers, the backstage crew and the scenery crew,” Karpel said. “It’s so time-consuming and it’s just beautiful to see everything come together after so long of it just being on paper.” She added that she wanted to thank everyone who helped her out with the process, including her parents.
“The wonderful thing about it is that every single girl is involved in it. There’s not a girl who doesn’t have something to do. It really is a nice coming together,” Levy said.
Because of the fun 1950s setting of “Grease” that concludes with a school carnival, carnival food will be served before the show, including popcorn, candy apples and similar items.
Doors open at 6:30 for the 7 p.m. scheduled start. The show runs for about 1 ½ hours and is suitable for girls of all ages, Levy said. Tickets are available for women and girls and can either be purchased at the door or on AJA’s website.