GREASE by Jim Jacobs and Warren Casey
Our Lady's School Abingdon
Radley Road, Abingdon, OX14 3PS
11-13 February 2020
This perennially popular production is hard not to like. It has a string of great songs that everyone knows (You're the One that I Want, Summer Nights, Hopelessly Devoted to You, Greased Lightning, We Go Together). It has the classic boy meets girl, boy loses girl, boy finds girl again plot line. It has a large cast and some great choreography.
Set in 1959 America at Rydell High School, the story follows the on-off romance between Danny and Sandy, stemming from a summer holiday romantic fling that turns out to be not that fleeting after all. Danny is the gang leader of the T-Birds. Their female counterpart at Rydell are the Pink Ladies, fronted by the gutsy, vampy Betty Rizzo. Into this world wanders new-girl-in-town Sandy, just starting at the school and unaware that her summer romance is a student there. When Danny meets Sandy there is delight from the latter but embarrassment from the former. Thus begins the series of twists and turns that eventually (inevitably?) see the couple reunited. Actually, could one be forgiven for thinking it's just an excuse for some great song, dance and humour?
So how did director Elizabeth Lawson and her team do? Pretty well it turns out. Dr Lawson was gifted two talented leads in Freddie Lee as Danny and Sally Frandsen as Sandy. Lee's extraordinary vocal abilities will no doubt be sorely missed by OLA after he completes his 'A' Levels this summer. The combination of a great voice with the perfect pouty look as Danny Zuko gave the piece a strong central anchor. Frandsen caught the character of Sandy Dumbrowski well – an ingénue adrift in an alien and often hostile environment. Oh, and a strong vocal performance as well.
As with previous musical productions at OLA, the restrictions imposed by a small stage and very large cast (over 70!), were mitigated by the use of a full-width balcony upstage. This use of split level staging during the bigger musical numbers enabled the production to punch above its weight with a striking 'big stage' visual impact. It was also a neat solution of where to put the show band when the venue lacked either a pit or suitable off-stage space. Congratulations to choreographer Miss Page for managing to bring dynamic movement to a full cast so tightly packed on stage that I've seen rush-hour Tube train passengers with more room to manoeuvre. If the cast can't move their feet, work those arms! The co-ordination was impressive.
If there was a non-human star of the show, it was Kenickie's (Henry Turner) car Greased Lightning, which attracted its own round of applause from the audience. Wheeled on to stage with consummate ease by an invisible stage crew of black-clad ninjas, accompanied by blasts of stage smoke, the vehicle stood resplendent with flames painted along the side. Boy-racer-ness personified. Although the song 'Greased Lightning' was well sung, on the opening night performance the dance moves by the T-Birds were poorly co-ordinated. Thankfully this was a rare exception.
Creating and sourcing costumes for such a large cast is a demanding task, but costumiers Grace Hummerston, Mrs Luscombe and Mrs Sharkey rose to the challenge with T-Birds, Pink Ladies, cheerleaders and assorted students, jocks and beauticians looking cool, hot, hip or frankly surreal, as required. In the latter category, I particularly enjoyed the costumes worn by the Beauty School Angels (massed curlers and gowns) during the number 'Beauty School Dropout'.
The band played to a high standard, so it was slightly disappointing that some numbers appeared to use recorded music instead. It was not clear why this option was chosen, as there was clearly talent aplenty amongst the music stands.
Finally, a few bouquets to performers who shone especially brightly on the night. Isobel Morris was an excellent Rizzo. Her nuanced performance of 'There Are Worse Things I Could Do' was a stand-out moment. Dominic Warburton as Roger gave a splendidly awkward rendition of 'Mooning', in which he confesses to Jan (Emma Samuels) about his cheeky hobby. We had a lovely deadpan performance of 'Beauty School Dropout' from Julian Kirby-Torres as Teen Angel. There were also notable performances from Brooks Frandsen as Doody the wannabe rock star and Carenza Danko as Eugene the nerdo supremo. One of the star turns was Imogen Harrison as Cha-Cha. Praise to Imogen and Freddie Lee for a pin-sharp dance performance of 'Born to Hand Jive'.
Congratulations to cast and crew for a production that did justice to a very well known show and sent their audience away in a joyful mood.
About the Author
Mike Lord has been involved with amateur theatre for over twenty years, mainly as an actor but also, more recently, as a director.
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