Yeah, how many of us don't know this, right? If you are anywhere close to my age, you probably saw it when it first came out in the cinema, or, at the drives, then when it came out on TV, then on VHS, then.... Well, you get the picture. Its a staple, everyone knows the story. Cute boy and cute girl try to overcome their differences in background to make a success of things in high school in California in the 50s. Its a story that many writers did, many times, with varying levels of success. Why has Grease worked so well? And why is it being run as a stage show on tour in Australia, for about the fifth time here?
Well, that clip from the movie goes a long way to explaining it. Fun songs, cute, likeable leads, bucketloads of energy, and, let's be honest, a lot of humour as we relive our youth, with enough commonality that we can all put ourselves into those roles we see on stage. It is close to being an urtext of the high school musical genre, if such a thing can be said. The movie was possibly the best expression of youth as we wanted it to be, rather than it ended up, that I can think of.
So, yes, any production of Grease on stage has a lot to live up to. Finding a group of performers who can sing and dance their way through the numbers and impersonate the leads from the movie close enough, and basically you have it made, right? Well, sort of. There is still a need to make it work as a cohesive whole, rather than a series of great production numbers with a story stuck onto it. Sadly, that is what it felt like at times. Sometimes it worked, and worked well. At other times, some scenes were like "get to the song already, so we can move on" which is never a good thing. I suspect some heavy editing of the book happened, or maybe just the director was not able to bring those scenes to life, but at times I felt like playing "spot what song goes here" before the song arrived. If I felt like that, something is wrong.
But, having said that, most of the singing was great. To be sure, who ever takes on the leads is going to forever be compared with the movie originals, and found wanting, but to be honest, most of the time that comparison was not happening. Rob Mills' Danny was filled with enough energy to carry him through, and, if Gretel Scarlett was not what we were expecting, well, frankly, who would be? The role is so indelibly associated with Olivia Newton John, that anyone has to be astonishing to make us not compare them. Needless to say, in her case, we got very good, not astonishing, so the comparisons were inevitable.
By far away the best of the main leads, though, was the Rizzo of Lucy Maunder. She owned that role, and filled it out with flesh and blood, in a way that the others couldn't. She also sang up a storm in her solo numbers, (Look at me I'm Sandra Dee and There are worse things I could do). Also excellent was the Jan of Laura Murphy, who brought the "young one" to vivid life, in a way that many of the others failed.
Having said that, the Teen Angel of Todd McKenney was also hilarious, and fun, even if his singing was no where close to the best I have heard that his one song sung. He certainly got the audience in the palm of his hand, showing what is possible in a small part!
But, to be honest, though I enjoyed this show, it would not be a production I would go see again. Apart from the fact that I am more likely to go see an opera than a musical, this was, while well sung, and (mostly) well danced, it lacked something to my mind. Most people would laugh at me for this, considering the fact we are talking about a very commercial musical, but I left feeling the show was lifeless, or soulless. It was all well done, but it had no reason to be done, other than just entertaining. Themes that were there were played down, and we were left with a show that was less than the sum of its parts, rather than more. Which is a shame, because there was things that I did enjoy about it, but ultimately, I was wanting more.
Oh, and yes, before you ask, I did not pay to go. It was our work Christmas party, paid for by my boss.
So, instead, I will leave you with Olivia showing why no one else even comes close with this role.