Queensland Conservatorium Griffith University musical theatre students take to the Lyric Theatre stage at Queensland Performing Arts Centre in 'Grease’.
'Grease' is undoubtedly an iconic musical. Once you make peace with how sketchy and outdated the plot is (the two main characters succumbing to peer pressure and expectations to toxic degrees) it's a rollicking experience with an unforgettable soundtrack and some really loveable characters.
In this iteration, we see some surprising, yet pleasing, changes in 'traditional' casting with Johnny Casino (Elizabeth Ball, she/they), Sonny (Carla Beard, she/they) and Miss Lynch (Beau Wharton, he/they) played by gender non-conforming performers. . . It's refreshing, it's important, and it's necessary. Theatre, film and television show us versions and reflections of society, and society is not (nor has it ever been) made up purely of heterosexual, cisgender people. Casting as its done in this production of 'Grease' is a reminder to those still stuck in this mindset that the world is more colourful than they've perhaps been led to believe.
Performance-wise, Beau Wharton is excellent as Miss Lynch – and a total stand-out for this reviewer. The role does a nice job of setting scenes and providing context along the way, as she emerges with her PA microphone to address the students of Rydell High. The added bonus of Beau completely disappearing into Miss Lynch's mannerisms and character quirks, and providing a consistently entertaining performance, means Beau's portrayal is a sure-fire success.
Danny and Sandy (on this night, 11 November, played by Sean Johnston and Annelise Hall respectively) create tangible chemistry and are each gorgeous in their own right – 'Summer Nights', 'Sandy' and 'Hopelessly Devoted To You' are all absolute showstoppers here.
Abigail Dixon is convincingly powerful as Rizzo, Rohan Treanor is delightfully nerdy as Eugene, and Hanlon Innocent really commits to Doody, particularly stealing hearts with 'Those Magic Changes'.
Group numbers like 'Grease' (that first chord at the beginning of the show genuinely sent shivers!), 'We Go Together' and 'You're The One That I Want' displayed the dynamism and unity of the principal and ensemble cast.
Director Alister Smith says in the programme, “we are hoping the show's social comments land on modern ears with the same cheeky side-eye they were intended to have”. The production does this successfully, in a way, and should be applauded for that. Gender-bent roles and a cleverly contemporary spin on certain themes is admirable. But there is something so prehistoric about its source material (how do you rephrase or modernise the lyric “did she put up a fight?”. . .) that has one feeling a little weird – but, this is by no means the fault of the production team or the cast, after all, they're working – and doing their best with – what they've been given.
As far as a production of 'Grease' goes, this one fares well in delivering the songs, scenes and characters so well-loved since the show's theatrical debut and of course its iconic film adaptation. Group numbers are big and fun, ballads are powerful, and this is a group of performers who truly love their craft, which comes across well.
Congratulations to the entire cast of musical theatre students – and an extra round of applause for conquering the 2,000-seat Lyric Theatre and truly commanding the stage as expertly as the cast in a professional production.
'Grease' plays Queensland Performing Arts Centre until 13 November.