Grease - QPAC

‘Grease’ // Queensland Conservatorium and QPAC

‘Grease’ was supreme.

The star power on stage at QPAC Wednesday night was truly electrifying, as the audience was treated to a phenomenal performance of ‘Grease’. Flawless vocals, brilliant choreography and dazzling technical effects made for an incredible rock’n’roll party that left Brisbane theatre-goers cheering.

The Musical Theatre students of Queensland Conservatorium Griffith University performed at the Lyric Theatre through a unique partnership with QPAC. Space in the schedule that brought these future stars to the big stage was described by QPAC Chief Executive John Kotzas as “a silver lining in amongst the cloud of COVID.”

What a silver lining it was: audience members were grinning ear to ear as we watched the 1959 high school love story and transformation of Sean Johnston’s Danny and Lucinda Wilson’s Sandy. Their vocals were impeccable with perfectly balanced harmonies; Johnston channelling his inner Travolta and Wilson making the iconic “Sandra D” her own. The chills were multiplying each time the pair took to stage, with excellent comedic timing and heart-melting teen romance in their eyes. 

Wilson’s vocals, including an outstanding rendition of ‘Hopelessly Devoted to You’, were far better than Olivia Newton-John’s recordings from the iconic movie adaptation; Johnston’s talent and charisma will no doubt land him many future roles as a leading man. The stark set and minimal lighting in ‘Hopelessly’ and ‘Sandy’ contrasted nicely with the colourful action of the large ensemble numbers and let the audience marvel at their vocal strength as soloists.

It’s hard to compete with Sandy and Danny, but the T-Birds (Daniel Erbacher, Hanlon Innocent, Harry Pitts and Carla Beard) and Pink Ladies (Amelia Burton, Nina Carcione, Jaime Mollineaux and Hannah Paul) were the perfect complements to the principal roles, earning their fair share of laughs and cheers from the crowd. Adding to the hilarity, and stealing scenes in their own right, were Kiara Whittle as Patty, Rohan Treanor as Eugene and Beau Wharton as Miss Lynch.

In choosing “several characters to gender-bend” as director Alister Smith wrote in his program notes, this ‘Grease’ also featured Elizabeth Ball as Johnny Casino and Nava Revalk as Teen Angel in the most eye-catching costume of the show, a gorgeous glittery jumpsuit. 

Innocent as Doody was consistently hilarious; ‘Those Magic Changes’ was a delightfully silly surprise, accompanied by perhaps the best towel-clad jock ballet dancers ever to grace the QPAC stage. Pitts as Roger and Carcione as Jan made the perfect pair for ‘Mooning’ and continued to impress with comedic timing, chemistry and pitch-perfect vocals. Erbacher as Kenickie lit up the stage (literally, thanks to some expertly timed lighting) from the moment he leapt into ‘Grease is the Word’ and all the way through the revitalised ‘Greased Lightning.’

This precision and seamless intertwining of choreography and costuming, musicality and direction, carried through the entire show. 

Musical director Heidi Loveland should be congratulated for a fantastic-sounding cast and band. The crescendo in “We’ll always be together” was done so well it gave goosebumps. Loveland made sure these Aussie students sounded as “Amerrrican” as the beloved movie characters. (This carried over from song to speech; if you closed your eyes, you’d be forgiven for thinking Burton’s Frenchy was Didi Conn reincarnated). 

Choreography by Dan Venz was a combination of nods to the original ‘Grease’ productions and fresh movements that made terrific use of the creative set design and props. Particularly impressive was the use of levels (both on the stage floor and on the scaffolding, including stairs and platforms) as well as the precision of movements for such large group numbers. The principal roles shone in their partner work, and it was also great to see the dancing talents of ensemble members on display in the opening numbers of both acts. Venz should be commended for a highly energetic show that made full use of cast talent, musicality and stage space. 

The sky-high scaffolding of the set was also well-used to feature the ensemble in larger group numbers, for the leads to show off their climbing skills, and to create the perfect drive-in simulation. Scene transitions were seamless, with the rolling rows of lockers an especially effective choice.

Kudos goes to Smith, Venz, Loveland, costume coordinator Sophia Morris, lighting designer Keith Clark, plus set and sound design by Adam Gardnir and Steve Thornely, respectively. It was a rare show in which every cue seemed to have been hit, every inch of space covered, and every beam of light illuminating a smiling (or sneering) face.

Queensland Conservatorium Griffith University students and staff should be incredibly proud of the high-calibre production they’ve mounted. The pure joy emanating from the stage never faltered and left the crowd smiling and bopping along to the beat.

If you need a show that can keep you satisfied, ‘Grease’ is the one that you want.

‘Grease’ performs until Saturday, 13 November 2021 at QPAC. For more information, visit the QPAC website here.

Photography by Kenn Santos. 

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