Review: GREASE THE MUSICAL at Her Majesty's Theatre

Melbourne…Grease The Musical is back! In this new and refreshed version, which features an all-Australian creative team, not only is Grease the Word, Grease is also Glorious and a Great night out at the theatre. 4.5 Stars!

By: Jan. 12, 2024
Review: GREASE THE MUSICAL at Her Majesty's Theatre
This revival of Grease is close to perfection… and dare I say it, I think I prefer it to the film! Not only do we get to follow Sandy and Danny in Grease The Musical, we also become more acquainted with all the Pink Ladies and T-Birds, which results in Grease The Musical feeling much more of a Rydell High ensemble show. Something that is most welcome.
 
What really elevates this revival of Grease, is its clever set design and vibrant costume design by James Browne, the inventive video design by Craig Wilkinson, and the impeccable onstage singing from Grease’s cast. So good is this cast’s vocals, I was left pining for a cast recording. Perfect for 2024’s Summer Nights, Grease will put a big smile on your face, and have you bopping along in your seat, as it brings back all the fun-loving American 1950’s nostalgia, including big, bold, greasy hair, and Rock’n’Roll dance moves.
Review: GREASE THE MUSICAL at Her Majesty's Theatre
Photo by Jeff Busby

Most people’s first encounter with Grease, including my own, is of course the classic 1978 feature film, staring and immortalising John Travolta as Danny, and Melbourne’s very own icon, Dame Olivia Newton-John, as Sandy. Yet Grease actually began before Hollywood, premiering originally as a much rougher, raw and raunchy musical back in 1971, at a Chicago night club, with book, music and lyrics by Jim Jacobs and Warren Casey. This version of Grease, then transferred to Off-Broadway and then Broadway in 1972, but had its original content diluted and it's Chicago setting replaced. While slammed by some reviewers when it first opened on Broadway, this second iteration of Grease ended up overall being well received by the public, closing on Broadway in 1980 after 3,388 performances, which made Grease the longest running Broadway musical of the time.

In 1978 however of course, Grease’s third iteration, the apparently even more watered-down and homogenised film version, is of course what most of the world know. Ironically, I would argue that the film version of Grease, by today’s standards, doesn’t really seem homogenised, given it can be interpreted as sending the wrong message that a woman needs to change herself to ‘get a man’. Contextually however, at the time Grease was written, a lot of 1950's cinema commonly had the ‘bad boy’ being transformed by the ‘good girl’. Grease’s plot was meant to subvert this common character trope. Regardless, in 2024, this part of Grease’s storyline does, for myself anyway, still seem uncomfortable, as does Danny’s behaviour towards Sandy in the drive-in movie scene.

Review: GREASE THE MUSICAL at Her Majesty's Theatre
Photo by Jeff Busby

Despite these concerns, it should be remembered Grease was written and adapted in the 1970’s, and portrays teenage delinquent behaviour of the 1950’s. It should also be pointed out that Grease was written at a time, when other musicals were ‘pushing the envelope’, such as Hair and The Rocky Horror Picture Show. At any rate, one thing that cannot be argued is that for over 50 years, Grease has been loved by millions as a piece of film/musical history, and that the Pink Ladies, the T-Birds, and Rydell High have all become iconic in popular culture.

What is great about the current revival of Grease, is that it acknowledges and references the musical’s 1950’s American setting, while also contextualising Grease for an Australian audience in 2024. As detailed in the Show’s program, Director Luke Joslin discussed feeling that “it was important to both honour the original story, but also infuse a contemporary tone across the entire show, which in turn allows every facet of our audience to connect with this iconic tale.” Certainly, Joslin achieved this goal, and his direction of Grease is triumphant. Equally impressive was Dave Skelton’s musical supervision and musical direction, which meant Grease’s memorial music was showcased to its full potential. Eric Giancola’s fantastically fun choreography was outstanding and a highlight of the performance. The cherry on top, was both Trudy Dalgleish’s lighting design and Michael Waters’ sound design, which made the onstage visuals and vocals both really pop.

Review: GREASE THE MUSICAL at Her Majesty's Theatre
Photo by Jeff Busby

Then we get to the cast, where to begin… this is a cast of Grease that you definitely want to see. Leading the pack was Joseph Spanti as Danny Zuko and Annelise Hall as Sandy Dumbrowski, both of whom shined brightly in their duet ‘ Summer Nights’, and their individual classic solo numbers ‘Sandy’ and ‘Hopelessly Devoted To You’. Equally impressive was Keanu Gonzalez as Kenickie, who did an impeccable job singing and dancing in ‘Greased Lightnin’ while leading the male ensemble through this legendary number. Gonzalez truly is a triple threat! Mackenzie Dunn was also superb in her characterisation of Rizzo and in her strong vocal delivery of ‘There are Worse Things I Could Do'.

In fact, in all honesty, the whole case was great, with Tom Davis (Doody), Andy Seymour (Roger) and Harry Targett (Sonny) bringing the remaining T-Birds expertly to life, as did Brianna Bishop (Marty), Catty Hamilton (Frenchy) and Caitlin Spears (Jan), as the remaining Pink Ladies. Special mention must also go to Cristina D’Agostino as Cha Cha, wow can this lady dance, and Marcia Hines as Teen Angel, who brought soul, strength and pizazz to 'Beauty School Dropout'. Patti Newton as Miss Lynch and Jay Laga’aia as Vince Fontaine should also be commended for their performances.

Grease is playing at Her Majesty's Theatre through to March.

Review: GREASE THE MUSICAL at Her Majesty's Theatre
Photo by Jeff Busby



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