Review by George Dixon
The stage show Grease the Musical is in Melbourne town, and the whole city is buzzing with delight.
Grease was created by Jim Jacobs and Warren Casey in 1971. It premiered on Broadway on Valentine’s Day 1972. The film version was released in 1978. The musical is set in Chicago in 1958, during the rebel years between Rock and Roll and the Sexual Revolution that was building within American culture. As a snapshot of teen culture, Grease becomes timeless; supported by the upbeat tempo, a classic boy meets girl story sprinkled with group peer pressure, Grease ticks all the right boxes.
While it has been ten years between performances, Australia and Melbourne are no strangers to Grease. Grease as a musical has been successfully presented in various formats within Australia and around the world.
This new creation is also unique, making Grease Australian theatre history by being a totally Australian production. Directed by Luke Joslin, a graduate of the University of Western Sydney and the Actors’ College of Theatre and Television, Grease The Musical is reimagined, with all of the favourites and similar aspects. Every element fits well and works like clockwork, something like a hand in a glove. Kudos, to Joslin and the team for presenting this outstanding musical.
The run time for this performance is around two hours, including a twenty-minute interval.
From the moment you arrive, there is an air of excited anticipation, you simply know that this is something truly special. Inside the theatre, there are reels of original 1950s adverts running on the big screen, all of which help to present the feeling that you have been transported back to that era. The curtain opens to a wonderful sunset; at the top of the stairs stands Danny and Sandy, who are silhouetted against the full moon. The overture plays, while separately and finally together, the stop-frame poses reminiscent of comic strip stills, are played out. From there, it’s an explosion of light, sound, and high-energy action, that excites the senses.
There are so many wonderful things to enjoy with this production. There is no doubt that everyone is having a wonderful time; the whole experience is infectious.
James Browne Set, Costumes & Wigs Design has excelled with each element. The set design and execution are pure genius. With its monochrome tones and tall geometric sides, it presents a backdrop that is supportive of the costumes and performers.
The central set, being the spectators’ stairs, is fully utilized, pivoting on a turntable; each section is transformed by simple lighting and secondary sets into pop-up scenes. Every section of the set is used at one stage or another, including the Garage Dance Hall and Drive-in Theatre.
The clever transformation of the car into Greased Lighting is one of the highlights of the show, which also delighted the audience with a resounding spontaneous applause.
The restyled costumes are amazing, with contemporary styling and colours that both refresh and keep that 50s look while highlighting each character individually.
Hats off to the Teen Angels costume, which is simply spectacular.
Congratulations to the casting team on putting together an amazing group of emerging talent along with some of Australia’s best-loved seasoned performers.
The whole cast was well-balanced.
It was a pure delight to see Patti Newton, Miss Lynch. On stage, although in a minor role, her presence and natural talent are a wonderful inspiration.
Marcia Hines, (Teen Angel), brought the house down, not only because of the stunning costume but also because her commanding stage presence and wonderful voice brought power to the character.
Joseph Spanti’s (Danny Zuko) performance was sensitive yet managed to display the split personality of that time, bowing to the tough guy image while being head over heels in love.
Annelise Hall (Sandy Dumbrowski) carries the leading lady’s role superbly, portraying the innocence and the slightly out-of-depth new girl while maintaining her Australian accent in a world of American accents.
The transformation scene in ‘You’re the One That I Want’ presents the stark difference between being constricted and being able to be free to express herself.
Mackenzie Dunn (Betty Rizzo) was outstanding as the fiery and complicated Rizzo, Dunn absolutely shines in ‘There Are Worse Things I Could Do.’ Her tongue-in-cheek ‘Look At Me, I’M Sandra Dee’ is equally well hammed up. Both songs showcase the versatility of this performer.
Keanu Gonzalez (Kenickie) is another strong member who portrays the stereotypical alpha male of the 50’s. Gonzalez’s performance in Greased Lighting is dynamic and filled with delightful action-packed choreography.
Speaking about choreography, Eric Giancola, choreographer, and Madeleine Mackenzie, Associate and resident Choreographer, have produced a master class of dance, movement and synchronisation. Witnessing the on-stage magic is well worth the ticket price. The dance highlight comes with the dance hall competition as couples and, in particular, group formations and dance sequences. To put this in context, what you see on stage took one week of filming in the movie.
Grease the Musical is a bucket list production and should not be missed. It’s full of action that flows seamlessly; every cast member is a stylist triple thread in their own right. Together, they become a powerhouse of performers that delight and entertain. The production is a feel-good experience. A master class in Set Design and Choreography, there is something for everyone. More importantly, it is satisfying and entertaining, leaving you with smiling with fond memories.
Grease The Musical is now playing at Her Majesty’s Theatre in Melbourne’s East End Theatre District before touring to Sydney and Perth.
For more details: https://greasemusical.com.au/