It’s been thirty-five years since the film was released and the last main stage production in Australia was twenty-two years ago (arena spectaculars aside) but GREASE is still the word.
The new Australian production has premièred in Brisbane at the Lyric Theatre in the Queensland Performing Arts Centre to an overwhelming standing ovation.
From the beginning musical moments the familiar tunes and fun times flood back. I have seen a few incarnations of Grease in my time, so wasn’t expecting to be overly impressed by yet another production. But I was. The current Australian revival, presented by GFO, is a fun, feel good show and a really great night out. The ensemble burst with energy and each number packs a punch, resonating to the very back rows of the theatre. It was great to see some incredible triple threats in the ensemble, showcasing not only their singing and acting but some incredibly dance skills. (The three male dancers in the shower were particularly cheeky and memorable.)
The musical staging and choreography (Arlene Phillips, Natalie Gilhome and Charlotte Bull) is engaging and incredibly well executed. Terry Parson’s spectacular set design mixed with Mark Henderson’s lighting and Bobby Aitkens sound design set up the perfect atmosphere for this fun loving musical and nothing was left wanting. Special mention should also go to the Teen Angel’s sparkly costume design by Andreane Neofitou, although, in truth, all the costumes were outstanding. Under the direction of Stephen Amos, the music was superb and supported the cast in every moment.
An all-star cast has been pulled into this production with musical theatre’s man-of-the-moment – Rob Mills – as Danny, the cool cat leader of the T-Birds. Rob was aptly cheeky and conflicted in saving his reputation with the other T-Birds and his love for good-girl Sandy, played by Gretel Scarlett. Queensland born Scarlett, a finalist in the 2012 Rob Guest Endowment has up until now played supporting roles in Mamma Mia and the Asian tour of Wicked. And although it is hard not to compare the voice of Sandy with Olivia Newton-John, Scarlett held her own and was well cast in this role; we’ll certainly be seeing more of her in lead roles to come.
Todd McKenney stole the scene as soon as he stepped onstage, in his element in the glamorous role of the Teen Angel, making this small roll a memorable one. The audience lapped up his camp, sparkly number which included giggle-worthy references to his roles in The Boy From Oz and Dancing With The Stars.
Included in the star-studded line-up was Australian Idol runner-up Anthony Callea as Johnny Casino, performing the song ‘Hand Jive’ at the Rydell High dance off. Callea is a natural entertainer and a delight to watch.
Rounding out the celebrities was Bert Newton (returning to the stage after undergoing a quadruple heart bypass late last year) as the suave disc jockey Vince Fontaine and Silver Logie winning Val Lehman, best known for her role as top dog Queen Bea on Prisoner. Lehman provides a gravitas to the Rydell High Dance scene. Lucy Maunder, best known for her Helpmann award nominated role in Doctor Zhivago, plays the wise cracking yet complex Rizzo, and Stephen Mahy plays Kenicke, with an electric rendition of ‘Greased Lightning’ to boot.
A new Australian Cast Recording featuring this star-studded line-up will be on sale for audience members and includes those unforgettable songs we all love to sing at karaoke – and for those die hard fans, there’s even an audience sing-a-long moment towards the end of the show!
Another piece of advice for theatre-goers: make sure you arrive in the theatre a little early or you’ll miss some great pre-show entertainment.
The Premiere season of GREASE at QPAC’s Lyric Theatre Brisbane runs until October 6, followed by seasons in Sydney from October 13 and Melbourne from January 2, 2014.
For more information, visit the official GREASE website: www.greaseistheword.com.au