Venue: Lyric Theatre (Sydney NSW), from Oct 13, 2013
Based on the original by: Jim Jacobs, Warren Casey
Performers: Rob Mills, Gretel Scarlett, Stephen Mahy, Lucy Maunder, Todd McKenney, Bert Newton, Anthony Callea
Grease (1978) is one of Australia’s most loved films of all time. Our relationship with its songs and characters is an intimately familiar one, and this familiarity ensures that the staging of its musical version for Australian audiences is a safe bet. This theatrical presentation is a faithful adaptation of the cinematic version, and aims at providing entertainment and nostalgia, both of which are delivered in dazzling abundance.
Danny Zuko is played by Rob Mills, who has carved a career out of incredible charisma, and an impressive, consistent improvement in his stage craft. Now ten years in the public eye, Mills’ performance in Grease is a turning point in his career. The leading man’s voice is today at its most vibrant and versatile, and while not always known to be a great dancer, he attacks all choreography with gusto and flair, proving himself once and for all to be a formidable player in the musical arena.
Todd McKenney is Teen Angel (the fairy godfather), and steals the show with his only appearance in the eminently memorable “Beauty School Dropout” sequence. McKenney shows himself to be the proverbial Mr Showbiz, all sparkling toothy smiles and nifty footwork. The way his physical prowess owns the stage is mesmerising, and he absolutely exemplifies all we love about musical theatre. Also a stand out is Stephen Mahy who elevates Kenickie from a run-of-the-mill bad boy to one with impressive showmanship and great comic timing. He also happens to be dashingly handsome.
The Sandy in this production is, however, miscast. Gretel Scarlett has a stunning singing voice, but lacks the pop sensibility that is associated with Olivia Newton-John’s legendary recordings. Scarlett is a statuesque beauty and the perfect visual match with her leading man, but her interpretation of the wholesome girl from down under comes across slightly bland. It is bewildering also, that her two key moments (her solo, and her penultimate transformation) are not supported by stronger stage effects for greater dramatics.
The overall excellent cast, along with the brilliant band, and big budget set and costume design, all conspire to materialise a “real life” version of a celluloid dream we have all cherished through the years. The joy Grease represents and all the memories it evokes is invaluable, and much more than what we have come to expect of commercial musical theatre.