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Book, Music & Lyrics: Jim Jacobs
Author, Composer & Lyricist: Warren Casey
Director: David Gilmore
Music Staging & Choreographer: Arlene Phillips

at Civic Theatre, Auckland
From 5 Aug 2010 to 29 Aug 2010

Reviewed by Kate Ward-Smythe, 12 Aug 2010

Like any good trip down the Grease memory lane, this production is fun, energetic, colourful and while the song order is different, overall it never strays too far from the famous film version that so many remember so well. Even as the Radio WAXX pre show music drifts through the auditorium, to ease us into the 50s, when hairstyles and rock'n'roll were the only things that mattered in a teenager's world, my mind wanders back.

From the opening scene – the first day back at Rydell High – all our favourite characters, which many have grown up with, are instantly recognisable.

With her charismatic stance, Genna Galloway as Rizzo demands our full attention whenever she struts on stage.

Roger (Darren Vercuiel) and Jan (Cherise Roberts) are very likable nerds, but its David Schlachter as Eugene, who takes top honours as the coolest geek.

Bronwyn Reddy makes an enthusiastic, elastic Patty and Sharon Spiegel-Wagner, as Frenchie, is in fine singing voice, and just adorable to watch, as is cute Doody (Matt Counihan), although he is completely upstaged in his solo. In fact, his back up singer-dancers in ‘Those Magic Changes', confirm that this is the campest production of Grease you'll ever see!

Angelina Jolie look-a-like Kirsten Murphy portrays the drop dead gorgeous yet slightly dim hussy Marty, to a tee. Kenickie, played by Charles Bouguenon, is a stand out. From his electric ‘Greased Lightnin' to his sexy swagger and eye catching form on the dance floor, he is every bit a leading man. 

Jason Capewell enjoys bringing Vince Fontaine to life, as a fading, nearly ‘has-been' middle-aged man, reliving his glory days at the High School Hop.

Bethany Dickson's sweet Sandy is suitably nice and Jonathon Roxmouth as Danny uses an infectious goofy laugh and his obvious talents as a comic actor, to endear himself to the audience. While both are excellent singers, with impressive vocal craft, even taking into account that Grease is by nature, larger than life in tone and delivery, it is still difficult to see any embellished (let alone believable) chemistry and emotional connection between them, as they angst about their teenage love.

However, neither David Gilmore's direction nor Jim Jacobs and Warren Casey's script are about subtleties or subtext. The spelling out of emotions and forced feelings, along with the corny lines and cheesy set ups, are totally intentional. All are in keeping with a musical crafted to take us lightly from one hit song to the next, on a fun-loving ride.

While occasionally this makes for an oddly disjointed journey, every time the T-Birds appear this talented group of men clearly portray their loyal bond and solidarity as cool yet hapless larrikins, and milk every opportunity for buffoonery. The Pink Ladies by contrast, never quite succeed in communicating the same degree of schoolyard camaraderie.

Musical Director Charl-Johan Lingenfelder's thumping 7-piece band is drum-heavy, occasionally low on finesse but always high on raw energy and volume. At times they appear to be having so much fun, they are a tad loose. On saying that, it's about drive and energy, and the band delivers plenty of both. 

Musical Staging / Choreographer Arlene Phillips and associate choreographer Stori James capture and utilise every bit of that drive and energy. In particular, the company's moves on the bleachers in ‘We Go Together', are brilliant. 

While the main cast members are a mix of seasoned professionals and new faces from diverse backgrounds, overall the company are at their absolute best where it really matters: singing the big, fat, well known songs that generations have come to love and adore. At full voice, their vocal wave in ‘Grease Is The Word', ‘Summer Nights', ‘We Go Together' and ‘You're The One That I Want' and ‘Finale' (the compulsory medley), is thrilling.

Other numbers are not so exciting: band and company seem out of step in ‘Shakin At The High School Hop' and the following duet, ‘It's Raining On Prom Night' suffers from an imbalance in the audio mix between melody and harmony.

After Lingenfelder's slightly pedestrian pace in ‘Born To Hand Jive' (which also features some odd and distracting guitar FX), Bethany Dickson's wonderful vocal and stand out moment, singing ‘Hopelessly Devoted To You', pulls the music and magic of nostalgic memories, back on track. Roxmouth's ‘Sandy' is equally evocative, even though the tempo seems a little rushed.

The all important music is in fine hands, as audio design by Bobby Aitken is full of noteworthy details, such as clever cross fades from full PA volume, to a wireless (prop) radio on stage. Also, his decision to give hand held RF microphones to soloists in the upbeat rock songs, rather than rely on the weaker gain of headset mics, is highly effective. It gives the audience a far more present, tangible lead vocal.

Mark Henderson's lighting rig is massive, and while there are some old-school touches like the Grease logo in a sea of festoons, the overall look and feel is modern and bright, with extra trussing to house the huge number of moving lights that sweep the stage. Set design by Terry Parsons is similar: While full of bright primary colours, it has a contemporary, almost industrial feel to it.

Costume designer Andreane Neofitou ensures individuals are suitably attired in his or her own stand out bold and colourful 50s threads, or uniform T-Bird blacks. By contrast, her fantasy frocks in ‘Beauty School Drop Out' are rightfully garish.

However – and there is no easy way to say this – given the chunky size of this production's Danny, his tight stovepipe jeans and even tighter tiny white running shorts need to be addressed. Staying true to the cut of the day is one thing, but when the leading man's costumes are so distracting to the audience that they boarder on laughable and repellent, you have a problem.

My specific niggles aside, Grease absolutely unleashes a fun, colourful musical ride, through the eyes of our most loved and adored characters from Rydell High. Like an episode of Glee, it guarantees good times.  

For more production details, click on the title above. Go to Home page to see other Reviews, recent Comments and Forum postings (under Chat Back), and News. 

See also reviews by:
 Paul Simei-Barton (New Zealand Herald);
 Raewyn Whyte