By Vanessa Pickett
All our favourite characters from the 1978 hit movie Grease, were very much alive and rocking at Howick College on Tuesday May 29, as the opening night audience was transported back to 1959 at Rydell High where slicked back hair, bobby socks and malt shops are cool.
This year’s production was split into two casts that performed to audiences on alternative nights. Directed by Jillian Dryden, Head of Howick College Expressive Arts, the stage version written by Jim Jacobs and Warren Casey in 1971, differs slightly from the movie but loses none of the vibrancy and energy.
The fragile romance between Danny Zuko, leader of the T-Birds, and new girl at school Sandy Dumbrowski, is still at the heart of the story.
Tevita Sila, who plays Danny in both casts, exudes easy-going charm as he struts and preens around the stage. Sila shines on the dance floor alongside partner Cha Cha, played by Addison Tuineau, as they give an exhilarating performance of “Born to Hand Jive”. Full credit to dance teacher Rachel Atkinson, assisted by dance student Juliet Curwood, whose choreography throughout the show is a visual delight.
Hannah Milo is convincing as naive little rich girl Sandy and delivers a consistently professional performance. Her compelling reprise of “Sandra Dee”, before rushing off to transform into a high heeled, leather clad version of herself, is a real goosebump moment.
This new confident Sandy inevitably wins back Danny, who has undergone his own transformation in the name of love. Both actors deliver strong vocal performances in “Summer Nights” and “You’re the One That I Want” and are accompanied throughout the show by the talented eight-piece band, led by Head of Music Matthew O’Ryan and the exuberant ensemble cast.
But it’s not all light-hearted fun, this is ultimately a tale about teenagers dealing with the realities of peer pressure, self-discovery and sexuality; themes that are still relevant today. This is underscored by Rizzo, the smart, worldly but cynical leader of the Pink Ladies.
Portrayed by Lily Moore, Rizzo has no time for goody-goody Sandy and openly challenges her conformity to gender norms. Rejecting Sandy’s pity for her rumoured pregnancy in a powerful and poignant rendition of “There are Worse Things I Could Do”, Rizzo is comfortable with who she is in the world.
The stage version not only includes additional songs, it also allows the audience to identify more closely with the supporting characters, providing some priceless moments. The blossoming relationship between mischievous Greaser Roger (a character written out of the movie) played by Noah San Jose, and ditzy Pink Lady Jan, played by Katy Gribble, is pure comedy and San Jose’s rendition of “Mooning” is a crack-up (pun intended).
Wannabe beautician Frenchie, played by Kenjiah Weir, is a delight and the dream sequence with her Teen Angel, played by a suave and glittering Max Hill singing “Beauty School Drop Out” was a show favourite.
Billie Lawson, perfectly cast as the sophisticated opportunist Marty, delivers a suitably ironic “Freddy My Love” while “Greased Lightening”, performed by Josh Andrews as Kenickie, and the T-Birds played by Ethan Chadwick and Kelle Dawson, had the audience lip-syncing the words and bopping in their seats.
Full marks go to Finn O’Sullivan whose performance as gullible nerd, Eugene, was the perfect mix of comedy and pathos and Stefan Meadows-Allan who played the dulcet toned but sleazy disc jockey, Vince Fontaine.
This very satisfying college production, ably put together by Production Managers Debbie Szopa and Robert Douglas, played to full houses across all six performances which just goes to prove that 50 years on, Grease is still the word!