Senior high in the US in the late 1950s is re-energised in the colourful new production of Grease The Musical at Her Majesty’s Theatre. It is set in fictional Rydell High School (named after pop singer Bobby Rydell). That is where Australian blonde beauty Sandy Dumbrowski unexpected bumps into her summer love, the too cool for school, leather jacketed Danny Zuko. Sandy was destined to attend another institution, but switched, not realising Danny attended Rydell High.
Danny’s sweet nature when there were just the two of them, before they met up again at school, gives way to arrogant bravado in front of his mates. Sandy is understandably put out, trying to work out why Danny is being so mean. In fact, several times he missteps, much to Sandy’s chagrin, although despite her angst she is forgiving. At the same time, Sandy’s goody two shoes persona rubs cynical tough girl Rizzo up the wrong way. Rizzo heads up a clique known as the Pink Ladies and has a love/hate relationship with one of Danny’s boys, Kenickie.
In fact, Grease follows 10 American working-class teenagers as they navigate the complexities of relationships. Although the musical is fundamentally light and fluffy, it still touches on serious issues, including rebellion, gang violence, friendship, love and teen pregnancy. The book, music and lyrics are by Jim Jacobs and Warren Casey. There are additional songs by Barry Gibb, John Farrar, Louis St. Louis and Scott Simon.
The toe-tapping tunes continue to resonate. I particularly love the big chorus numbers. My favourites include Grease is the Word, Summer Nights and Greased Lightnin’. The showstoppers in the finale ensure the production finishes on a high. Annelise Hall is sweet voiced as Sandy and Joseph Spanti brings swagger to Danny. Mackenzie Dunn injects attitude and sass into Rizzo, while Keanu Gonzalez is slick as Kenickie. As good as they are, it is hard to go past Marcia Hines as Teen Angel. She only performs two numbers, but both are sensational … flawless. After all these years, Hines continues to excite and excel. The ageless Patti Newton is lively and appealing at teacher Miss Lynch.
The large set – which rotates too frequently – is based around sports ground bleacher seating. The period red, prop sports car is to die for. The costuming and wigs take us back to the era. Set, costume and wig design are by James Browne. The rousing dance routines are the work of choreographer Eric Giancola and resident choreographer Madeleine Mackenzie. The lighting design by Trudy Dalgleish is vibrant and dynamic. So, too, the big sound (sound design is by Michael Waters), which especially suits the ensemble pieces. Dave Skelton is musical director of the 11-piece band.
It was Harry M. Miller who produced the first stage musical of Grease outside America. That was in Melbourne in 1972, only three months after it opened on Broadway. Here we are more than 50 years later still smiling, clapping, singing along and having fun. That is even though I would have advised Sandy to have given Danny the heave-ho as soon as he mistreated her. With direction from Luke Joslin and resident direction from Trudy Dunn, Grease The Musical runs for two hours, including a 20-minute interval. It is playing at Her Majesty’s Theatre until 10th March, 2024.