What most surprised me about Grease the musical – and I speak as someone who has seen the movie a couple of times, and enjoyed it – is the apparent lack of any kind of driving plot to it all. One remembers the movie as having a good deal of high school angst and teenage heartbreak, with snappy cuts to and from each step of the way, but on stage, at least in this production , it all seemed to dissipate in front of your eyes. Sure, Sandy (Gretel Scarlett) and Danny (Rob Mills) are torn up about not seeing each other after their summer break; sure, Sandy is confused when Danny seems to distance himself from her, and Danny is confused about it too; but until they (spoiler alert) get back together again, and wham-a-dam there ding-a-rings and boom-ti-boom or whatever it is that young loves do, all that's in between is ditherings connected by famous songs.
Lucy Maunder (Rizzo) leading the cast of Grease. Photo by Jeff Busby.
The problem with the production, unfortunately – and perhaps this is a problem exclusive to this critic – is that the connective tissue between the songs is not as strong as it wants to be (though further into the run the cast may get more into the groove). The jokes aren't quite there, and so some of the scenes fall flat, and the songs themselves, while superbly sung, serve only to remind one of the movie. One sees the new car shining on stage like greased lightning, and one recalls how energetic that scene was in the film, whereas here on stage it strikes one as slightly static. But these are problems inherent in music theatre; to complain about them too much would be to perhaps unfairly criticise what can't be entirely helped. (And, indeed, the musical came first, so one might say that the film improved upon it, rather than the musical detracted from the film.) The gags, you see, are too over the top a lot of the time, and so the audience, having the punchline served to them on a platter, doesn't need to do as much work, and so find the jokes less humorous than they could be found if they were framed differently.
Still, there is much to like, and one will not leave the theatre disappointed. Indeed, this critic was very impressed with the level of singing and dancing on show, and the atmosphere generated from the off was both sizable and palpable. The leads are handsome and fine of tone; the supporting cast are more than caricatures (especially Lucy Maunder as Rizzo, who nearly steals the show in "There Are Worse Things I Could Do"); and the ensemble was energetic and lively. Bert Newton makes an appearance as Vince Fontaine, the radio DJ who leads the high school dance, as well as popping out in the interval to announce a few birthdays in the crowd (one thinks back to the Blue Man Group doing much the same thing with a ticker bar – and more successfully – just the other month, though Newton still gets his laughs). Todd McKenney, when not filming Dancing with the Stars, one assumes, makes an appearance as Teen Angel, and busts out some Boy from Oz in the process, shamelessly playing himself up to the audience and thus making himself the most memorably of the cameos. Anthonty Callea, too, trots on as Johnny Casino, but makes less of a mark, though only character-wise – his voice was in fine form. The sets are more than serviceable, though nothing extremely grand, and the band, high up at the back of the stage, keep things ticking over smoother than a pacemaker dipped in Baileys. (Assuming said pacemaker doesn't short-circuit in the aforementioned liquid.) All in all, it's a fun night out, but it's the movie, I think, that has the real depth to it.