The West

Grease is still the word
A scene from Grease. Picture: Jeff Busby

4 stars
Rob Mills, Gretel Scarlett, Todd McKenney
Crown Theatre

You'd have to have a heart of stone not to enjoy Grease. Yes, it's been around the block a few times, but when you have a cast this good, songs this catchy, a mood this retro-nostalgic and a set design this appealing, what's not to like?

There's very little to fault in this energetic, vibrant production. The leads - Rob Mills as Danny and Gretel Scarlett as Sandy - clearly look like they're having the time of their lives, and they are backed up by a talented supporting cast that includes some major industry luminaries in cameo roles.

Bert Newton is a hoot as smooth-voiced DJ Vince Fontaine, while John Paul Young, as Johnny Casino, belts out Born to Hand Jive with bluesy gusto. Val Lehman, everyone's favourite Prisoner, does a perfectly uptight and upright schoolmarm Miss Lynch; but it's Todd McKenney's hilarious cameo as Teen Angel that prompted some of the most vigorous audience cheers.

As he emerges from behind a scrim to sing Beauty School Dropout, in bouffant silver quiff and spangly silver suit - all white-toothed grin and megawatt charisma - you know you are watching a genuine star of the stage. There are a few cheeky references to Dancing with the Stars and The Boy from Oz but rather than coming off as an annoying piece of self- aggrandising, it's a sly wink to a long and stellar career in the Australian entertainment industry.

What strikes most about this version of Grease, apart from the slick production values and the feeling of professional polish that comes from watching a touring company, is the quality of the vocal performances across the board.

From Scarlett's pristine vocals in Hopelessly Devoted to You and Mills' unexpectedly poignant Sandy to the excellent ensemble pieces, the vocals are topnotch. Kirby Burgess, who has taken over from Lucy Maunder as Rizzo for the Perth tour, does a spectacular job of There Are Worse Things I Could Do, while Stephen Mahy's Kenickie is all masculine bravado and swagger in the excellent Greased Lightning.

There are a number of songs and scenes that didn't make it into the ever-popular 1978 film version, which keeps things fresh for those who might be thinking they've seen it all before (of particular interest is a hilarious trio of buff backing singers, towels wrapped precariously around waists, doo- wopping into their back- scrubbers).

Karla Tonkich, as Marty, sings an ode to her boyfriend, Freddy My Love, which never made it into the film, while Scott McConnell's Doody also manages to charm with Those Magic Changes, a song which only made it into the film as backdrop for the pivotal high school dance-off scenes.

And that's where Andrea Arena comes in. It's a relatively small role but Arena manages to pack a strong, very funny, punch as the seductress Cha Cha DiGregorio, with her flailing Latin limbs and over-the-top flouncing skirts.

For those who are bona-fide fans of the film, you won't be disappointed. And for those who might not have jumped on the original Grease bandwagon, you might just find yourself converted.

From Scarlett's pristine vocals in Hopelessly Devoted to You and Mills' unexpectedly poignant Sandy to the excellent ensemble pieces, the vocals are topnotch.

Grease is at Crown Theatre until July 27.

The West Australian

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