Directed by Laura Balboni
Musical direction by Oscar Balle-Bowness
Sydney University Musical Theatre Ensemble (MUSE)
Corner of City Road and Cleveland Street, Chippendale
Season: 22 – 25 March
Grease is an inimitably renowned musical that has brought joy to kids and adults alike ever since the original musical was staged and Newton-John and Travolta took it to the big screen. The MUSE production at the Seymour Centre captures this joy for audiences to relish in an energised live performance. A shimmering cast of talent is showcased in a range of featured roles, excellent ensemble work, and led by Isobel Graham as Sandy and Tom Pegler as Danny.
Laura Balboni’s direction brings forth some delightful characterisations as well as highlighting the pointed social issues incorporated subtly into the story. Allusions to gendered violence, date rape and unwanted pregnancy – all issues which remain pertinent in these contemporary times – emphasise the relevance that Grease continues to have in today’s society. It never sits well when you witness the female characters being groped and belittled by the male characters on stage, and yet the strength of these female characters prevails. Theirs are the stories that enrapture. Phoebe Clark’s depiction of Marty stands out from the moment she enters the stage, deliciously confident and glamorous, with an exquisite voice. Ellie Jones’ portrayal of Rizzo is fittingly fierce, and yet Jones expertly draws out a tenderness in her performance that is quite heartbreaking. Graham is saccharine sweet as Sandy, with a dazzling voice, until she finally takes a walk on the wild side at the end of the show – at this point, Graham is mesmerising. Pegler’s performance as Danny highlights the teen self-consciousness and desperation to be perceived as ‘cool’ – a very real pressure to this day. With a splash of humour, he gets the audience on his side in spite of his initial maltreatment of Sandy. Tom Crotty hits the nail on the head with his characterisation of Kenickie, with strong stage presence and good comedic timing.
The ensemble in the show brings a smorgasbord of talent to the fore, highlighting the impressive level of performance taking the stage in university league. The cast has an infectious energy exacted through Stephanie Troost’s choreography, with a vast range of dance and song numbers that are fabulously uplifting. A few of these toe-tapping numbers include Born to Hand Jive (with some brilliant partner-dance skills), Beauty School Dropout (utterly hilarious), and Greased Lightnin’. Set design for the show, also by Stephanie Troost, is splendidly simple and highly functional for transitions between multiple settings. It truly comes to life in some of the big dance numbers with hundreds of sparkling LED lights, augmenting the shining action we see on stage.
Grease the musical is undoubtedly a winner, and Balboni’s production picks up on all its winning qualities as well as bringing some unique touches to the experience. This is a show that everyone can get behind and enjoy, with its well-known and loved music, thrilling dance, and evocative and comical performances. For a wonderfully entertaining evening, Grease sure is the word.