‘Grease – the Musical’ reviewed by Gordon the Optom

by September 15, 2017

‘Grease the Musical’ is a 1971, American musical and romantic comedy written by Jim Jacobs and Warren Casey. It remains Broadway’s 15th longest-running show. The show was revived for Broadway in 2007 Broadway and borrowed ideas from the film adaptation.

This two-hour, power-packed show is being presented by the years 7 to 12 students of Cecil Andrews’ College in their Performing Arts Theatre, at 39 Seville Drive, Seville Grove.

The curtain goes up at 7.00 pm for three nights, Thursday 14th, Friday 15th, and Saturday 16th with one matinée on Saturday afternoon at 2.00 pm.

 

On arrival at the theatre, a warm smile from the House Manager (Tovila Pau’u) is always a great start. Melanie Fowler’s foyer décor left you in no doubt about the era, or the name of the High School in the musical. The walls had numerous 78s (for the young, they were the 30 cms diameter, extremely brittle, records of the day) hung everywhere. The theatre’s café was changed into the Capa Café (as in the play) by Mere Rukuta and Maddyson Smith, who supplied tasty morsels – loved the iced cakes. Naturally, Elvis was highly featured in the décor. Even the director joined the cast by dressing in a 50s outfit, complete with paper nylon petticoat.

 

Scene is 1959 in Rydell High School, Chicago.

The main sets (designed by Celeste Underhill and constructed by Matt Cook) were the school gym, and sports field of Rydell High School. There were several minor sets, a café, and a couple of bedrooms. Due to limited funding, the sets were restricted in size, but the quality of the art work by Cherie Mongony, Harrison Smith, Annette Underhill and Rhonda Garcia should be applauded,  

Ian Ashton’s lighting and sound design helped the show bounce along and added to the spectacle. Bryce Powell operated the complex lighting design smoothly. Were the headsets working?

The stage manager Jessica Rukuata-Joynson had a massive job handling such a large cast, and the movement of numerous props, but with her assistants Taylor Adams and Shanaea Rukuata-Joynson, and an energetic stage crew (Duncan Finlay and Elexis Heathwood) everything went without a hitch. Behind the stage, Sarah Humphreys managed the pandemonium, helping each actor make a cool and unflustered entrance.

 

        As the 1959 reunion begins, old friends are gathering and discussing the events of 20 years earlier. Miss Lynch (Rhianna Muir) welcomes back a former cheerleader, Patty Simcox Honeywell (Alannah Leeder) and the class’s nervous nerd, Eugene Florczyk (Joshua Heil) now a successful business man.

        It is the end of the summer holidays, and T-bird greaser, Danny Zuko (Harrison Battersby) is keen to tell his Burger Palace pals, consisting of his best friend Kenickie (Corbin Marcum), lousy guitar strumming, Doody (Alexander Smith), the group’s sex bomb Dominic ‘Sonny’ (Damien Houghton), and Roger ‘Rump’ (Kalib Gwilym) all about the holiday dream girl that he met on the beach. She was the beautiful Sandy Dee (Alicia Witheridge). They fell in love, but Danny said a few tasteless comments about the affair and these got back to Sandy.

        Meanwhile, the Pink Ladies, who are a clique of stylish girls consisting of Rizzo (Caitlin Curtis), Marty (Rebecca Goodwin) and Jan (Stephanie Thompson), are sitting in the classroom, revealing to each other their outrageous holiday affairs. As they chat, an old-maid teacher, Miss Lynch introduces them to a new girl, Sandra Dumbrowski. Most of the Pinks ignore Sandra, but she is welcomed by academically struggling, but aspiring beautician, Frenchy (Isabella Bulich-Western) who befriends her. Before long, Sandy meets Danny again, but she is annoyed that he described her as a loose woman.

        Frenchy invites Sandy to a pyjama party to cheer her up, but after trying a cigarette, drinking and getting her ear pierced by Frenchy, Sandy is feeling even worse. Rizzo makes fun of her moral nature. To impress Sandy, Kenickie buys a wreck of a car that he names ‘Greased Lightning’, but Danny borrows it and takes Sandy to a drive-in.

        Frenchy feels that school is a waste of time and decides to go to college to study makeup. However, she is visited by a teen angel (Sebastian Havea) who advises her in song, to return to school.

       The school dance is hosted by DJ and dance judge, Violet Fontaine (Sonya Goodchild) who flirts with Marty. Kenickie attempts to annoy Rizzo by dating Cha-Cha (Hannah Barnett). Although she is very pretty, poor Patty finds that she, along with geek Eugene, are the leftovers when the dance competition is announced.

       Broken hearted, Sandy sits at home singing along with the radio. Still in love with Danny, Sandy decides to do all she can to win him back, so with advice from Frenchy, she arrives at the school in a stunning black leather outfit. Could this image be the answer to her prayers?

 

The ensemble is a term normally used for the ‘fill-in actors’ who simply make up numbers in a dance sequence, but this ensemble is so much more. They were all individual stars in their own right, congratulations to Hayley Dodds, Payton Swinwood, Makaya Kemp, Shevon McCormack, Tamika Knowler, Angel-Rose Paton, Kayla Merritt and Zara Battersby.

 

The audience could clearly see the huge amount of work put in by director, Celeste Underhill and choreographer, Peter Fares (Head of Arts, Drama and Theatre). The cast had all the necessary theatre skills, with several of the cast – including Sebastian, Alicia, Caitlin and the T-birds, being outstanding.

The dance routines were quite complex, energetic and yet every dancer smiled throughout as they performed in unison. There is always one actor who lets the team down – but not in this show, superb team work.

Musical Director, Melanie Fowler had all of the singers, word perfect and belting out every number. The show opened with a blast, and each act ended with a rousing number that had the audience begging for more. The lively orchestral music was on a licenced disc, but the second Act opened with a wonderful live band, starring Damien Houghton, Michael Pearce, and Daniel Brimmer, with Kadence Tahan as Johnny Casino, the singer. The lead vocalists could actually sing beautifully; in some shows this is not always the case. With the stage essentially being the auditorium floor, and with many actors being within arm’s reach of the audience, one would expect the young cast to perhaps be inhibited, intimidated or extra nervous. Quite the reverse, the cast gave their all, with the T-birds especially actually milking the audience.

The youngsters had very good, matching and subtle American accents thanks to vocal coach Peter Shanhun.

The costumes were supervised by Celeste Underhill, who was aided by Sarah Humphreys, Annette Underhill, Fran Gordon and Jacky Humphreys. The hair-dos and wigs were supervised by Kaitlin Magry; one scene required all of the girls – possibly around 30 – in the hair salon to have beehive hairdos, with rollers and capes all in silver. The amount of work in this scene must have been mind boggling, but it was certainly worth the effort. A most memorable number.

A great show, where everyone gave their ‘everything’ – energy, enthusiasm, warmth, great movement and powerful singing. Very well done, be proud.