GREASE The Musical - Her Majesty's Theatre (VIC)
Written and composted by Jim Jacobs and Warren Casey. Produced by John Frost.
Reviewed by Annika Loci
Her Majesty’s Theatre, Melbourne
Until March 10th, 2024
A fresher and bolder attempt at reviving 'Grease' is saved by an exuberantly energetic cast, and its supporting characters of stage veterans.
Audiences around the world have been hopelessly devoted to Grease for over 50 years. Originally written and composed by Jim Jacobs and Warren Casey, Grease had its humble beginnings in 1971 as a play with music. Jacobs and Casey created a gritty story set in the late 1950s about their own school peers in the suburbs of Chicago, which included topics of peer pressure, gangs, teen pregnancy and sexual exploitation. With massive interest in their play, and multiple rewrites and revisions, Grease debuted as a musical on Broadway only a year later to huge acclaim, and it wasn’t long before Hollywood came knocking. In 1978, Grease was turned into a major musical motion picture (albeit a bit less realism that the 1971 original) and became a global phenomenon that generations have come to know and love.
A multitutde of stage productions have since evolved and adapted, with the influence of the movie’s success, whilst still at its core attempting to address the world of teenagers in the late 1950s. 10 years after its last revival in Australia, producer John Frost (Crossroads Live) has put together an all Australian creative team for this latest iteration. Director Luke Joslin describes this “cool, fresh, bold” 2024 version as an attempt to honour the original source materials with contemporary pop culture tones. The question could be asked, is it necessary to put more contemporary recreation to something so well-known and beloved?
The 2024 Australian Cast of 'Grease'. Images by Jeff Busby.
Unlike the movie, the stage version does not have a very strong focus on the on/off romantic relationship between Sandy (Annelise Hall) and Danny (Joseph Spanti), but rather makes at attempt to weave a storyline for each of T-Birds and Pink Ladies. This unfortunately means with so many storylines, character arcs can come across a bit two dimensional and the plot significantly lacking substance in places. However this fresh faced, young and enthusiastic cast work within the boundaries of the script and take it in their stride. The fact that they look like teenagers obviously helps a great deal.
Hall brings a lovely innocence to Sandy, with a beautiful rendition of ‘Hopelessly Devoted’, paying homage to the late Olivia Newton-John but adding just enough flair making it her own. Spanti captures the romantic, gentle side to Danny with lovely vocals to match, however seemed to struggle at times bringing bad-boy Danny front and centre, thus chemistry between Hall and Spanti occasionally felt a bit weak.
Rebellious Rizzo's (Mackenzie Dunn) strong performance brought some much needed depth and humanity, especially during the build up to her performance of ‘There Are Worse Things I Could Do’ as she faces a pregnancy scare. Alongside Dunn is the insanely energetic, full of attitude Kenickie (Keanu Gonzalez) responsible for leading one of the most anticipated scenes… ‘Grease Lightnin’. Other than some questionable costumes for the ensemble in this scene which blocked most of their facial expressions, Gonzalez keeps the energy at full octane level, exciting audiences throughout.
Brianna Bishop as the flirtatious Marty and Caitlin Spears as the goofy Jan both have great comedic timing, and rounding out the Pink Ladies is Catty Hamilton who nails the endearing Frenchy. Other notable performances are The T-Birds gang of Tom Davis (Doody), Andy Seymour (Roger) and Harry Tagett (Sonny). The costuming and wigs (James Browne) lean more towards a Rockabilly feel and certainly achieve Browne’s objective of bright, comic book look with colours that would leap off a page with personality.
Supporting this fabulous cast are three cameo roles from Australian seasoned performers. Patti Newton (Melbourne shows) really gets into the fun of her role as principal of Rydell High School Miss Lynch, impressively and subtly climbing up and down the big set during the school dance. Jay Laga’aia is DJ dance host Vince Fontaine and certainly grabs your attention in his suave suit and hair design. Marcia Hines as Teen Angel is a crowd pleaser with her smooth soulful vocals and an enjoyable gospel attitude with Frenchy, although she looked a bit awkward at times in her amazing angelic white costume.
This attempt at a fresher, bolder production may not exceed everyone’s expectations
Musical director Dave Skelton has given the score a slight tweak with a more gutsy and highly enjoyable rock n roll sound that has audiences toe-tapping throughout the entire production. The mega-mix encore is where it’s finally the eager audience’s chance for a boogie and singalong, celebrating all the iconic Grease songs.
Trying to bring a fresh modern take on this production, the team may have gone a step too far. The set design also by Browne, is overall boring and bland. Set on a rotating stage (that is overused), the large all-white modern monochromatic school bleachers repeatedly get in the way of the energetic, period influence choreography by Eric Giancola and often scenes are saved by the clever and innovate lighting design of Trudy Dalgleish or the cast themselves, such as the excellent presence and dancing of Cha Cha (Cristina D’Agostino) in the school dance scene. The slick red Grease Lightnin’ car looks brilliant onstage, and a rare moment where most of stage in use allowed the space to breathe. Perhaps the most distracting element of the production was the stagehands being clearly visible, surprisingly with no attempt to blend them into scenes through lighting or costume, causing the world of the show to be broken.
This attempt at a fresher, bolder production may not exceed everyone’s expectations, but for fans of Grease in all its aspects, the mix of this exceptional cast together with all your favourite songs being belted out, creates an enjoyable and unshakeable nostalgic feeling.
Ticket information - greasemusical.com.au
Currently playing in Melbourne until 10th March, 2024
Auslan Interpreted Show – 1st February, 2024, 7.30pm
Audio Descripted Show – 18th February, 2024, 1pm
Pink Ladies evening - Wednesdays nights from 17th January, 2024. Volunteers from the Olivia Newton-John Cancer & Wellness Centre in attendance for donations, with themed cocktails for purchase and 1950s DJ playing in the foyer.
Sydney Performances from 24th March, 2024, at Capitol Theatre
Perth Performances from 30th June, 2024, at Crown Theatre