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BWW Review: GREASE by the Musical Theatre students of the Queensland Conservatorium

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This production runs until the 13th of November

The Musical Theatre Students of the Queensland Conservatorium Griffith University's production of Grease was of a high calibre, but the weight of its outdated message was too heavy to ignore.

BWW Review: GREASE by the Musical Theatre students of the Queensland Conservatorium

According to the write up on QPAC's website, Grease is a is a beloved hit that has transcended generation after generation. Whilst that may be true that it is beloved, although I'd claim that that's largely because of it's iconic songs, I would not say that it has 'transcended' in terms of its encouragement of sexual harassment, it's anti-consent stance, general depiction of woman, how to treat people in a relationship, fatphobia, peer pressure and body image.

Yet, the QPAC write up still continues to say that the musical is 'a comedy satire that challenges social rules and the generational gap by interrogating teen sexuality and gender equality through the eyes of the 1950s teenager'. Is Danny Zucco grind on Sandy without her consent saying that 'nobody is watching when she says no' challenging gender equality? Is Danny then singing mournfully afterwards about wondering what the kids at school will say about him and then laughing about how he didn't get laid, challenging teen sexuality?

BWW Review: GREASE by the Musical Theatre students of the Queensland Conservatorium

It's time to face facts. Grease hasn't aged well and its story contributes to the #metoo movement.

When the line 'did she put up a fight' was sung I not only cringed in the hit song Summer Nights, but I fumed and curled up my fists. A little girl was sitting in front of me with her Mum and I couldn't help but wonder whether this little girl was thinking that violence against women was okay. What if this happened to her in ten-years time? Would she tell her friends at school the next day about that line?

I know changing lyrics in the songs can be very finicky depending on the rights you pay for, but surely director Alister Smith could have changed that one line. Unfortunately, Summer Nights also sets the tone for the rest of the musical; in which the one of the principal female leads Sandy changes herself for a man, similar to Walt Disney's Little Mermaid and everyone nods along and cheers.

To the directors and board members of the Conservatorium, there's such a catalogue of musicals to choose from, both independent and commercial musicals that promote a positive message about consent and the treatment of woman that still have songs that you can bop along to. Then why choose to stage a musical that its core not only rewards but encourages misogyny against women? Why go back in time? Why not instead, be more progressive and bring about change?

BWW Review: GREASE by the Musical Theatre students of the Queensland Conservatorium

Now to the staging. Adam Gardiner's set design of the stage being home to a versatile construction scaffold was a skillful move which allowed us to see more of the ensemble. Smith's implementation of having choreographed sequences with the four sets of lockers, which each had a painting of a famous celebrity on the back including Elvis Presley and Marilyn Monroe, between each scene transition was such a clever way to use the space. Additionally, having the ensemble on stage dressed up in the retro 1950's fashion, dancing along to the radio during pre-show as the audience was taking their seats was such a joyous and fun way to start the show.

Dan Venz's choreography was at the heart of the spectacle, electrifying and animating each iconic song whilst capturing the 1950s style of movement, including the iconic hand jive. Sophie Morris's costumes transported the audience straight back into the 1978 movie with John Travolta and Oliva Newton John, with its swing dresses with clenched waists. The ensemble was spectacular whilst the principal actors were all phenomenal triple threats, I would have loved to have seen the actors more self-conscious about their characters flaws. However, the lack of diversity in casting was noticeable and I'd strongly recommend that the Conservatorium reflect on the casting of future productions. Unfortunately, the gender role swaps in the show didn't serve a purpose apart from making the principal and the female t-bird comical and felt that it could have been explored a lot further.

Whilst Grease may capture the mood of a 1950s high school fairytale, its problematic elements cannot be overlooked in the twenty-first century. I applaud the musical theatre students of The Queensland Conservatorium for giving their all in this production. Especially the female students who made up of the cast, even though their gender is largely mishandled.

Rating: 4 Stars

Photography by Darren Thomas


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