|Photo by Jeff Busby
John Frost by arrangement with Paul Nicholas, David Ian and Robert Stigwood present GREASE at the Lyric Theatre, Star City, Sydney.
This show began. Those famous opening musical sounds.
A song in... then: "Grease Is The Word" and "Summer Nights".
I have never seen this musical on the stage before. And, when, in the Lyric Theatre the other night, I heard those two songs I was transported to one of those long lost cinemas in George St, where Angela Punch, Mark Harrison and I jumped out of our seats and danced to the closing credits to the John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John film version.We danced out into the street, high on life.
Did we feel the word?
"Yay!" GREASE, was the word.
This stage version, at the Lyric Theatre, which is using the post-movie additions, i.e. the original songs (John Jacobs and Warren Casey) with some additions (Barry Gibb, John Farrar, Louis St. Louis and Scott Simon.) bounces along with all the silly mayhem of a celebration of another era - a total fantasy of that era, to be sure, BUT, a good one. The music and lyrics, in this production, along with the zesty, dynamic choreography keeps one high and distracted from a too simplistic book, and performances, that though they sing well, mostly, let us down with superficial attempts to 'flesh' out the characters.
Gretel Scarlett as Sandy scores gloriously with her "HOPELESSLY DEVOTED TO YOU" in the second act; Lucy Maunder scores with her vocal rendition of 'THERE ARE WORSE THINGS THAN THIS" (What a voice!). That their attempt to create 'real' people that we can/should care for beyond the personality of the performer, is a little suspect. And, it only mattered as the night rolled on and we became tired. Rob Mills, as Danny, relies on personality and charismatic chutzpah to deliver his man, and could focus on more than those bare necessities, to creating a character, to be the leading man that Mr Travolta has indelibly placed in our minds. Big broad face-pulling, no matter how attractive that animated face can be, is, really, only skin deep and repetitively boring over the two and a bit hours. How different was this work from his Fiyero in WICKED, when I last saw him? - not much. I liked, a little more, Stephen Mahy as Kenickie; Francine Cain as Frenchy, Eli Cooper as Eugene - they made some attempt to flesh out their cartoon characters - and the chorus of dancers, particularly the energy and finish of the male chorus.
Specifically, it is the singing and dancing that sweeps one along through the evening which, because of the length of the show, just, just begins to pall a little towards the end. And that is because the principals, really, have not created characters well enough for us to sustain our care for what happens to Danny, Sandy or any of the others. Most of them are playing the story as if we already know the conclusion - which we do - but we would, I can assure you, like to have some stakes of doubt to carry us through to the end. The Director, David Gilmore, seems to have found the flash and dash of this show but not the flesh and blood of the characters (however thin it may be in the book and lyrics).
If I were a judge on a show panel and had to estimate Todd McKenney's "Teen Angel", as I understand he does for others on television ("colourful' and controversial, I read in the program) then I would have to say the amount of applause that the audience gave him after his one song, "BEAUTY SCHOOL DROPOUT", before he suggestively waved his hand to encourage more APPLAUSE from us, (several times), is the just amount his performance deserved. No more, for certain, and may be a little less in my observation of what he gave us to respond to. The performance was all packaged glam fakery with little authenticity of any McKenney revelation or truth, or even any , in the moment care for the work - ego centred and delivered by rote - a performance offer that seemed to be a little skew-whiff in accuracy of vocal skills and choreographically, the choreography and the music finishing at different times! Disappointing - the in-joke of the maracas all the more sad to see in rememberance of what was a great performance, in its time. Anthony Callea, in his guest spot as Johnny Casino, with a haircut that just looked WRONG - give him a wig please - performed in a kind of dazed space, and completely out of style to the musical he was purportedly in. He looked and felt as if he were promoting his new album - all personal ego and no, no character from GREASE. Bert Newton, as Vince Fontaine, has that wonderful voice and that indomitable spirit that still gets him through to please, while Val Lehman was just terrific as Miss Lynch, a fairly thankless role, that she keeps, desperately, aloft.
Believe it or not, despite my huge carps, GREASE the musical is so charming with its bubbly score and dance routines, that if you are feeling low - just go. It could lift you into a state of joy.