Reviewer: Aliison Hillbig
Most people, when hearing the words Grease and “musical” together, tend to think of the hit 1978 movie, starring Olivia Newton-John and John Travolta. The challenge for any company staging the musical Grease is to balance their own interpretation of the stage show against the public expectations of how they recall the movie.
Aidan Kyval opened the show as Eugene, in “Grease is the Word.” He was awkward and geeky, but with a powerful and confident voice. He played the role brilliantly, remaining awkward and geeky throughout the show, giving a strong performance but without distracting from the leads. The opening number was bright, colourful and energetic. The music, under the baton of Musical Director Kevin Nguyen, was bold with a rich full ensemble sound.
The musical commences in familiar territory as the key characters and story line are introduced, leading into the one of the most well known and loved songs, “Summer Nights.” Sarah Power was a good casting choice as Sandy. She has a beautiful, sweet voice but with enough power to confidently sing through the full register required.
Danny was played by Liam Kilgour. At first, he didn't have the stage presence I expected of Danny and did not stand out amongst his fellow leading men. However, once he began to sing, he had a strong rich voice and his confidence and stage presence grew in the second half.
Danny was well supported by the Greasers: Doody (Josh Lovell,) Roger (Sean Van Geyzel,) and Sonny (James Ness.) Each gave good performances as a group of over-sexed, not-so-bright wanna-be's who were trying to fit in and relate to each other, as well as members of the opposite sex.
Perhaps the strongest performance came from Robbie Carmellotti as Kenickie. He oozed confidence and sex appeal from the moment he walked on the stage and it remained the whole way through the show. If there really was anyone amongst this group of high school kids who was genuinely cool – this was him. Carmellotti was well balanced by a strong performance by Janette Diab, as the nasty and spiteful Rizzo. There were a few weaker notes in the top register of her performance of “Sandra Dee,” but this may have been more first night nerves than musical ability as she was very strong in her second act number.
Rizzo was backed up by her Pink Ladies: Cathy Lord (Marty,) Tamara Smith (Jan,) and Jodie Scoullar (Frenchy.) Each was confident in their role, had good voices and wonderful on stage presence and chemistry.
Clint Wood started off shaky as the Teen Angel, but surprised me with the strength of the high notes he managed at the end of the song. As Vince Fontaine, he gave a rather sleazy performance, but I expected a more over-the-top, larger-than-life persona.
Through the early musical numbers, there seemed to be a battle between the performers and the band, with some of the soloists difficult to be heard over the volume of the band. It did improve as the show progressed, but the band still remained quite loud and I would have liked a better balance in the sound between the band and the lead vocals. Not sure if this was partly due to the location of my seat in the theatre which was close to the front and near the side.
Set designers Alberto Salvato and Andrew Edge have developed an interesting set. I'm not a huge fan of a minimalist type of set, but the multi levels and openings of the staging kept it interesting and made it work. It also meant the whole show flowed very smoothly with fast transitions between scenes. This was enhanced by complementary lighting designed by Jason Lord that kept certain parts of the stage in darkness while the action was being played out elsewhere. As Greased Lightning” was about to commence and a car was suddenly pushed through the middle of the stage, there was an audible gasp from the audience who were clearly impressed!
Congratulations must go to choreographer Robert Mulholland, and assistant choreographer Natasha Harvey for some fabulous dance routines which combined a few of the familiar moves with a fresh and edgier feel. The dancing was sharp, crisp and had excellent unison.
The costumes were wonderful – particularly in the high school dance scene. The only disappointment was the condition of some of the wigs, with some long strands of hair dangling awkwardly. The ensemble girls costumes in Greased Lightning were quite distracting as I realised that what I had first thought to be a “wardrobe malfunction” was in fact deliberate costuming and reinforced some of the crude lyrics in the song and the sexual tone underlying everything the boys were doing.
What was most apparent through this musical was the overt bullying, sexual harassment, peer pressure and rebellion. This was not simply a sweet tale of some love struck teenagers. Co Directors Karen Ingwersen and Robert Harvey have done an excellent job in keeping this production true to the author's original intent of a “rowdy, dangerous, over-sexed, and insightful piece of alternative theatre … that revealed cultural truths about America.”
Overall, this was a good production that gave an insight into the changing culture of America as it moved from the tradition of the 50's into the rebellion of the 60's, although I'm not sure how many of the audience really grasped the statements being made as they exited the theatre singing along to “We Go Together.” Maybe in the year 2012 we haven't really progressed much further. Worth a look – from a current perspective.