Grease is the word - but this production isn't quite the word you've come to know. After the iconic film starring the smooth-talking John Travolta and doe-eyed Olivia Newton-John, it's hard to imagine that there was ever really something that came before - but there was. Playing at the Seymour centre, Squabbalogic Independent Music Theatre brings us The Original Grease with all of the raunchy, risqué antics, but also without some of our favourite parts. A minimalistic set and grungy feel re-create the late 1950's urban, working-class origins of this tale and make us want to know - what's The Original Grease all about?
Strictly speaking, this 'Original Grease' isn't quite the clear cut antecedent that it seems. Instead it's a bit of a hodge-podge, combining material from the 1971 Chicago production, the 1972 Broadway production and even incorporating some new parts into this old 48 Ford of a musical - like a solo for Danny Zuko. However, trying to describe this concisely would be a mouthful and a half, so the 'Original Grease' works well in rebranding this time-honoured favourite.
In this vein, their tagline 'Goodbye to Sandra Dee' couldn't be more apt. A sort of self-aware meta-show, this production feels as though it barely centres on the classic good girl/bad boy love affair, focusing instead on the general licentiousness of those attending this Chicago high school. Whilst the bulk of the characters and the general plot do remain the same, it's a much more ensemble piece and ultimately what feels most unfamiliar is the score. However, this isn't necessarily a recipe for disappointment, as we find some new gems coming out of the Rydell High woodwork. A new song to show Sandy's transformation and a splendid a capella version of 'We Go Together' certainly put a new spin on things.
If we turn to the performers, the true standout in this production is Coral Mercer-Jones as our sassy and scantily clad Rizzo. Impressing with a strong and captivating rendition of 'There are worse things I could do', the young actress oozes Chicago spunk and operates as the hard-set glue that holds the production together (with a saucy, skin-showing towel drop that is sure to drive the boys wild). In fact, it is the supporting cast that provide many of the most memorable moments on this small stage. Matilda Moran as the ebulliently enthusiastic Patty Simcox gave the most energetic performance of the evening and was one of my personal favourites, using everything in her arsenal to encapsulate this peppy, preppy VP nominee. On the other hand, Jason Mobbs-Green as the mad-for-mooning Roger galloped out as the dark horse of sound, his dulcet tones ringing out as the strongest of the male performers.
Unfortunately, this shining supporting cast means that our leads better shape up. This shift in focus from the love between Danny and Sandy signifies that not only do we not feel a deep connection for them, but they also just don't quite sparkle as brightly as some of the rest of the cast do. Brendan Xavier's Danny Zuko feels a little too green for this production, even when one considers that he is only 18. Although he gives it a good go, and eases into his role in the second act, his drop in confidence and less than stellar vocals mean that our handsome heart-throb doesn't dazzle when compared to other cast members. Similarly, our Sandra Dee performed by Emily Hart simply falls a bit flat in comparison to her capable co-stars. Whilst her singing is undeniably on point for every song, her Sandy feels under-developed. Of course Sandy is known for her goody-goody ways and perhaps even for being a bit bland, but there is still a way to make that one's own and unfortunately, in this regard, she feels a little too two-dimensional.
Overall, this production has a rough-around-the-edges sort of charm that is hard to resist. It could definitely use a good polish, but the young cast, ensemble feel and exuberant dance numbers give it a life and vitality that sticks with you. Squabbalogic takes this show back to its roots and as long as you're not hopelessly devoted to the film, you'll be shouting 'you're the one that I want' by the end of the evening (or not, because you won't hear that one here!).