There was a palpable vibe in the auditorium of the Festival Theatre last night, with splashes of colour and costumes reflecting the efforts of the expectant crowd as they awaited the opening of Grease is the Word.
More than 40 years after Harry M Miller produced the first production of Grease staged outside of America – in Melbourne in 1972 – Adelaide is now experiencing a piece of rock and roll history with the staging of this popular musical.
The costumes, hairstyles and neon set design transport the audience straight to Rydell High School in the mid 1950s, complete with flared skirts, bobby socks and cheerleaders.
The story begins at the sound desk of radio jock Vince Fontaine, played with panache and great entertainment value by Bert Newton. A quick singing lesson follows under the pompous guidance of school principal Miss Lynch (Val Lehman, whom many will remember as Bea Smith in the TV series Prisoner).
Rob Mills as Danny Zuko and Gretel Scarlett as Sandy are likely to be compared to with John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John from the 1978 film, so credit goes to them and director David Gilmore for making this show their own.
Lucy Maunder’s edgy Rizzo strikes an uncanny resemblance to the movie version’s Stockard Channing, and original flavours continue with other characters such as Kenickie (Stephen Mahey), Frenchie (Francine Cain) and the ever-quirky geek Eugene (Eli Cooper).
The music is immediately familiar and infectious, with laugh-a-minute antics from the well-oiled, terrific cast and crew. The choreography is slick, clever and captivating, and the sum of the collective talent is exceptional, with exquisite performances from all soloists.
John Paul Young as Johnny Casino is warm, inviting and familiar, while showman Todd McKenney’s performance as Teen Angel is an absolute hoot – he shows his audience how to have a whole lot of fun.
Set in an era influenced by Elvis and James Dean, steeped in fluffy dice and hubcaps, this classic tale of boy meets girl is a coming-of-age story reflecting the people most of us can relate to from those all-important character-building years through high school.
This production of Grease offers a showcase of talent and represents main stage musical theatre at its best. It’s fresh, fun and full of life. With Australian entertainment industry icons Newton, Lehman, Young and McKenney keeping up the pace, it’s well worth taking the whole family along.
As Vince Fontaine would say: “Be there or be square!”
Grease is the Word is playing at the Festival Theatre, Adelaide Festival Centre, until August 31.
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