Photos – Jeff Busby

It’s perhaps the most famous musical of all time, Grease, starring Hollywood legends including John Travolta, Olivia Newton-John and Stockard Channing to name but a few. The 1978 film version of writers Jim Jacobs and Warren Casey’s musical about the fictional 1959 graduating class of Rydell High School began from humble beginnings in 1971 Chicago, unaware of the global reach it would have.

Since then, there have been many productions of Grease across the globe (the number is rumoured to be around 125,000) and Australia has been on the bandwagon since Harry Miller’s 1972 production at Melbourne’s Metro Theatre starring the incomparable Denise Drysdale. There have been numerous adaptations, arena spectaculars and even a sequel, Grease 2 starring Michelle Pfeiffer which is both beloved and maligned depending on who you ask.

The most recent production at Her Majesty’s Theatre in Melbourne has taken all the best elements of the film and stage versions, packaging them neatly into two and half hours of joy. The familiar opening bars of the overture fill the theatre and the stage is awash with colour as the audience is transported to Rydell High.

We meet the star-crossed lovers Danny Zuko (Joseph Spanti) and the new girl in town, Sandy Dumbrowski (Annelise Hall) who are reunited after their summer romance. Unfortunately for Sandy, Danny’s reputation as a ladies’ man and his desire to impress his friends ensures the path of true love is very bumpy. Sandy has kept her Australian accent in a nod to Newton-John but it comes off as more jarring than a tribute.

Cheered up by the Pink Ladies, the ensemble of alleged “bad girls” are entirely believable as best friends and their costume designs by James Browne are a perfectly pastel Clueless-meets-1950s mash up.

Tom Davis as Doody gives a fantastic Franki Valli impersonation in “These Magic Changes” and it’s an absolute highlight of the show. As is the duet between Jan (Caitlyn Spears) and Roger (Andy Seymour) who turn a song about flashing your buttocks into a wholesome and romantic moment.

Grease also features cameos from Australian theatre royalty Patti Newton as the high school principal Miss Lynch who finds moments of physical comedy throughout. And then there is Marcia Hines. Dressed as an angel and with the voice to match, there was a notable hush from the audience at her appearance, she is both soulful and playful, her casting could not have been more perfect.

Unfortunately, Jay Laga’aia as radio host Vince Fontaine falls a little flat against these icons of musical theatre. The relatively green cast hold their own though and this production of Grease feels like much more of an ensemble piece than simply focusing on the relationship between Sandy and Danny. What’s more Kenickie (Keanu Gonzalez) gets his song back, (John Travolta famously stole “Greased Lightnin’” from Jeff Conaway in the film) and absolutely nails it. Mackenzie Dunn is the anti-heroine Rizzo, the cool girl with a tough exterior and sharp tongue but Dunn finds the softness in the character. Rizzo’s 11 o’clock number, “There are worse things I could do”, was an excellent example of careful choices and truthful storytelling.

While some design elements are obscured due to the overhanging balcony at Her Majesty’s Theatre, the majority of the action is downstage and the projections are still visible.

There’s not a dull moment throughout the production and it’s easy to understand why fifty years later this story, its characters and its songs are so beloved.

This production of Grease illustrates exactly why people love musical theatre. It is fun, frivolous escapism at its absolute finest.

Event details

John Frost for Crosswords Live presents
by Jim Jacobs and Waren Casey

Director Luke Joslin

Venue: Her Majesty's Theatre | 219 Exhibition St, Melbourne VIC
Dates: 31 December 2023 – 10 March 2024
Tickets: $159.90 – $59.90

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