Review by John Lombard
Grease is a colourful 50s nostalgia musical with catchy songs, vivid characters and and an uncomfortable final message that women can be happy if they are willing to change themselves for a man.
On summer holiday uptown girl Sandy (Rosanna Boyd) meets and falls in love with gentle stranger Danny (Marcus Hurley). After her father has a fight with her Catholic school she is forced to make a sudden transfer to working class Rydell High, where she is surprised to be reunited with her summer romance. But rather than the nice guy she spent summer with, in his natural element Danny is a rough greaser and top dog in gang the T-Birds, the cocky crowd that rules the school. To be closer to Danny Sandy begins to hang out with the paramours of the T-Birds, the Pink Ladies, but her prim manners make her the butt of jokes. After a lot of struggle with her identity she decides that she needs to change to be with her love, and after a full wardrobe and personality overhaul she finally becomes one of the gang.
The teens start their senior year on top of the world, disrespectful of authority and sure they have all the answers. We expect this to be a coming of age story where the characters learn to be adults, but despite some scares like a potential pregnancy the characters never really grow as people. The T-Birds are a gang in a working class community with humble dreams like souping up a jalopy, but they also engage in petty theft (hubcaps are mentioned a few times) and gang violence. In other words, the T-Birds have a lot of jail and unemployment in their future.
Danny does actually try to better himself for Sandy by joining the track team. It’s played for laughs as trying to pass as a jock, but it is also the only way Danny tries to bridge the cultural gap with Sandy (which is strange, because they got on perfectly well on summer holiday when he wasn’t around his friends). There is a hint that Sandy needs to overcome prejudice and see the value in the working class crowd, but she is never a snob and is if anything too eager to fit in, only getting upset when the girls are actively cruel to her. Sandy’s final transformation is total, and that is where the musical ends. It feels as though there is a scene missing, one where Danny and Sandy both realise they accept each other the way they are, regardless of what their friends think.
Despite an undercooked story, the songs and sketch comedy are a lot of fun. Dave Collins as Roger and Risa Craig as Frenchy provide gorgeous comic performances, while Vanessa de Jager stands out as Sandy’s primary foil, the tough Rizzo. Jordan Kelly’s choreography gets everyone up on their feet but comes to life when he focuses on the best dancers, for example Amy Campbell’s utterly ferocious cameo as “Cha Cha” during the school dance. Hamish McConchie’s lighting design is excellent, as as the vibrant costumes by Anna Senior. Sound quality is a more mixed experience, with the live orchestra sometimes blotting out the vocals.
Grease is a fun night out, however in tone it feels like director Stephen Pike’s 2013 production of “I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change”: songs separated by sketch comedy. Much like Cabaret, Grease is a musical defined by a brilliant film version that stage productions have to fight to live up to. Grease gets the spectacle right but falls short on the story.