Sunday, 5 January 2014

Grease, Jan 5, 2014 ***1/2

Book, Music & Lyrics by Jim Jacobs & Warren Casey, with additional songs by Barry Gibb & John Farrar
Produced by John Frost
Her Majesty’s Theatre, from Jan 6, 2014
Reviewer: Kate Herbert
Stars: 3 & 1/2
Review also in Herald Sun News online (Sunday Jan 5) and in print  (Mon, Jan 6). KH

Slick back your quiff, slip on your bobby-sox and rev up the Chevy because Grease is back in town.

The 1978 movie with John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John made the soundtrack famous but, at the Melbourne premiere last night, the audience bopped along to their favourite tunes including the sexy, upbeat You’re The One That I Want and Grease Is The Word.

In this production, local star Rob Mills is cocky and sultry as good-looking Danny Zuko and Gretel Scarlett is an appealing Sandy, evolving from wholesome, girl-next-door to smokin’ hot minx in skin tight black.

 Rob Mills & Gretel Scarlett. Pic by Jeff Busby

The energetic chorus supports Mills and Scarlett’s spirited duet, Summer Nights, and Scarlett’s fine voice is highlighted in the romantic Hopelessly Devoted To You.

This version, directed by David Gilmore, is the fifth major, Australian production of Grease since 1972, the same year that Jim Jacobs and Warren Casey’s 1950’s jukebox style, teen musical burst onto Broadway and challenged the old, show tune musicals.

It is set in 1959 in the fictitious Rydell High School, where shy, new, Australian student, Sandy, falls for high school Romeo and ‘greaser’, Danny.

Although this custom T-Bird show goes into overdrive during the many memorable songs, it stalls unforgivably during the scenes where the pace and timing are often sluggish, dialogue clumsy and physical comic business awkward.

Despite shining during their songs, there is no chemistry between Mills and Scarlett so the Sandy-Danny relationship feels flat and uncomfortable.

Stephen Mahy, as Danny’s scowling pal, Kenickie, has a magnetic stage presence and resonant, versatile voice and steals the first act with Greased Lightnin’, supported by the sidekicks, Roger, Doody and Sonny (Duane McGregor, Chris Durling, Sam Ludeman).

Todd McKenney takes the prize for biggest ham and steals the second half, singing Beauty School Dropout in silver lame and wig.

Val Lehman’s Miss Lynch is suitably brusque and school-teacherish, but Bert Newton looks miscast as DJ Vince Fontaine,

The on-stage band is tight as a drum, Arlene Phillips’ choreography is vibrant, Terry Parsons’ design is glitzy neon littered with 50s icons.

If you are willing to forgive the flaws, this show is damned entertaining and will heat up Melbourne’s summer nights for the whole family.

By Kate Herbert
 Pics by Jeff Busby

Rob Mills - Danny
Gretel Scarlett - Sandy
Anthony Callea - Johnny Casino
Stephen Mahy - Kenickie
Lucy Maunder - Rizzo
Todd McKenney - Teen Angel
Bert Newton - Vince Fontaine
Val Lehman - Miss Lynch

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