Grease is the word this weekend in Melbourne, as Wendy Samantha’s production of the 1970’s high school musical rocks its way into Gasworks Arts Park for a super short season.
Wendy Samantha Productions is a local performing arts school in Melbourne, and the stage version of Grease was the perfect choice for this year’s senior production to showcase the school’s emerging talent. With a minimum age of 14, the energetic cast were refreshingly very close in age to their high school characters – very different to the movie!
For those unfamiliar with the storyline (I’m guessing not many of you), Grease follows the journey of students Danny and Sandy, alongside the T Birds and the Pink Ladies, as they navigate high school to the unforgettable rock n’ roll soundtrack that defined generations.
The stage musical of Grease was originally released in 1971 and has many songs that don’t feature in the movie (released 8 years later in 1978) – a great way to hear from the wider ensemble outside lead characters Sandy and Danny. Another positive thing from Wendy Samantha Productions is that they have adapted the cast slightly on each night of the show to give more performers the opportunity to play lead roles.
On the night that I saw the production, Sandy was played by Laura Wilcox. Wilcox embodied the gentle spirit of pre-transformation Sandy perfectly, and did justice to the character’s iconic vocal numbers such as ‘Hopelessly Devoted To You,’ with her tuneful and sweet voice.
Starring opposite Wilcox was James Worboyes as Danny Zuko. Worboyes is a charismatic and confident performer, and had a smooth and swoon worthy vocal quality in his songs – important for such a suave and beloved character!
Ensemble stars from this performance included Rizzo (Claire Wastell) whose mature stage presence allowed her to portray the sassy ‘villain’ of the show confidently. Marty (Alicia Michaelides) and Frenchy (Emily Sist) were also a pleasure to watch, with Michaelides’ version of ‘Freddy My Love’ receiving rapturous applause from the audience. The T Birds also worked well as a cheeky gang of rabble rousers (which I got a sense might be true to their real-life personalities?) with special mentions going to Kenickie (Johnny D’Arco) and Doody (Stef Burato). Burato in particular provided some great comic moments throughout the show with some script improvisation, perhaps not appreciated by the show director, but very welcomed by the audience.
My favourite ensemble member from this performance was Jan played by Philippa Gray. Gray was bubbly and funny from the get go, never missed a beat of her choreography, and embodied the sweet and endearing character of Jan wonderfully. From the glimpses of vocals we heard in her song ‘Mooning’ with Roger, I see a lot of great potential in this young performer’s future!
As with many opening nights, there were a few vocal slips scattered throughout the performance, but they did not detract from the audience’s enjoyment of the show, as I could discern from the amount of wolf whistles and whooping going on! While there was no live band accompaniment for this production, I was impressed that the cast kept time with the tape so well and no-one lost their place (as far as I could tell). I have seen many adult performers falter in the wake of backing tracks! The track also made for a note perfect and well balanced support for the young cast, even though it lacked the spontaneity and subtleties of a live band.
Similarly, there were a few opening night scene transition issues which I expect will be ironed out over the coming nights. The pace of the show was sometimes slowed with some lighting and set inaccuracies making for ‘dead space’ in the storyline, which might usually have been filled with a live band vamping to kill time.
This production was presented in the intimate Gasworks Theatre, which I love as a venue. The set was simple yet effective (very impressed with the to scale Greased Lighting car!), as was the lighting plot. The costumes were also well sourced and believable.
Overall, this show provided everything that a performing school production should do. It showcased the talents of many young performers, and allowed them to have a heap of fun while doing it! The enthusiasm and friendship between the cast and crew was evident and enjoyable to watch from start to finish, and I think this is a very important part of community theatre. I applaud the team behind Wendy Samantha Productions, as I could tell from both the performance and program that you worked very hard to help this cast give their best. I’m looking forward to seeing more from these performers and crew in the future!