CRANFORD, NJ — A Cranford native is living his dreams as an actor, currently appearing in a professional production of the 1971 musical “Grease.”
Garrett Forrestal can be seen treading the boards at Axelrod Performing Arts Center in Deal Park in the role of Kenickie Murdoch, the right-hand man to Danny Zuko, the male lead character and leader of the teenage gang the T-birds.
For Forrestal, the role is a return to something familiar, though still exciting. Forrestal played Kenickie in a production of “Grease” when he was a sophomore in high school, but he said that, this time around, it still feels fresh.
“I guess you could call it a full-circle moment,” Forrestal said in an email to Union County LocalSource. “To me, this is incredibly exciting and fun to be a part of.”
Forrestal said that he brings the support of his friends and family with him to each performance of “Grease.” He added that the talent of the cast and crew, whom he said were a pleasure to work with, created an exciting musical experience.
“It’s hard to express how grateful I am for each of my family and friends that have come to see ‘Grease,’” Forrestal said. “And every day I perform with this cast, I am blown away by the voices. People love ‘Grease’ for the story, but also for the music, and you can’t find a better group of vocalists to sing these classics.”
Andrew DePrisco, artistic director for Axelrod PAC, said he felt similarly and praised Forrestal’s acting ability. He said the casting for this show needed to be perfect, and Forrestal was the best choice.
“When the Axelrod Performing Arts Center decided to add ‘Grease’ to our schedule, we knew that casting the show with age-appropriate actors would be the biggest challenge,” DePrisco said in an email to LocalSource. “We were thrilled to find a young, triple-threat actor like Garrett to play Kenickie. His natural talents shine like polished chrome in every scene.”
Forrestal, who received his bachelor’s degree in musical theater from the University of Michigan in 2020, has appeared in many stage shows. In college, he acted in a variety of plays and musicals, including “The Last Days of Judas Iscariot,” “The Pirates of Penzance” and the world premiere of Michael McElroy’s “Sonnets, Soliloquy and Soul.” He also played Daniel Pontipee in a production of “Seven Brides for Seven Brothers.”
As a child, Forrestal said, he was not very interested in theater — until his older brother began taking singing lessons, and, as younger brothers often do, Forrestal followed along.
“My very reasonable and smart brother now does PR and still sings, but I couldn’t stay away from the theater,” Forrestal said.
Forrestal said it was the spontaneity and electricity of being in a live production that drew him to theater. He enjoys working with and problem-solving with cast and crew.
“The thing I like most about the stage compared to other mediums is the thrill,” Forrestal said. “Everyone has to work together and exercise incredible amounts of trust, whether it’s being thrown in the air, suspended on a platform, or dealing with a vulnerable moment. Things change and flow; you have to just go with the moment and trust the people around you.”
Forrestal also enjoys watching live theater. One of his favorite productions as an audience member was “On the Town,” which saw a Broadway revival in 2014 and is about a trio of sailors on shore leave during World War II. Its music was composed by Broadway legend Leonard Bernstein.
“At the time, it was the largest live orchestra on Broadway,” Forrestal said. “Hearing any of Leonard Bernstein’s music live with a full orchestra is bound to be an incredible experience.”
With such a love of theater, and with his promising career still in its infancy, Forrestal said he hopes he can keep doing what he loves for as long as he can. Among his many aspirations for the future is landing his dream role, that of Roger in the musical “Rent.”
“I have loved that show since a young age, watching the 10th anniversary recording on YouTube,” Forrestal said. “Playing that role would definitely be a dream. I used to sneak around on school nights and watch that production until the early morning hours, sacrificing a lot of sleep and maybe even some of the quality of my homework. I think it was well worth it.”
Beyond that, Forrestal said he wants to continue to diversify his career. Working in theater is important to him, but if other projects in other mediums speak to him, he said he would absolutely pursue them.
“I hope to be able to continue working in the arts and support myself, but I do hope to explore more film and television,” Forrestal said. “I also would love to be a part of new works and help develop fresh material.”
The remaining performances of Axelrod’s production of “Grease” are Thursday, June 16, at 2 p.m.; Friday, June 17, at 7 p.m.; Saturday, June 18, at 2 and 8 p.m.; and Sunday, June 19, at 3 p.m. The show is a faithful presentation of the 1971 musical written by Jim Jacobs and Warren Casey. Forrestal appears in each performance as Kenickie. For tickets, visit https://www.axelrodartscenter.com/grease or call 732-531-9106, ext. 14. Axelrod PAC is located at 100 Grant Ave., Deal Park.
Photos Courtesy of Garrett Forrestal and Axelrod Performing Arts Center