Don’t expect to see the John Travolta/Olivia Newton-John version next month. While the show features all the familiar tunes and memorable moves, audiences can expect a couple of twists in the re-imagined production.
A young cast of musical theatre students is breathing new life into the show, tackling issues like gender inequality, toxic masculinity and homophobia head on.
According to Bachelor of Musical Theatre student Beau Wharton, “it’s not your parents Grease or a sing along – this is gritty, fun and real.”
Beau is playing Miss Lynch – a role traditionally played by a female performer.
“I have been working hard to make sure that it’s not a parody and trying to find the truth in the character,” they said.
Hailed as one of the greatest movie musicals of all time, the show has won generations of fans with its hit songs, high energy dance numbers and iconic cast of characters.
Beau said it was exciting to update the show for a new generation of theatregoers.
“We’re not sugarcoating anything about the show, but we’re coming at these themes and stories from different angles than audiences are used to,” they said.
“It’s not about sweeping things under the rug. It has been a very well thought out and collaborative process of finding the best way to tell this story in 2021.
“To get into the rehearsal room and basically build this show from the ground up has allowed us to relate to the characters and put our own stamp on it.
“For all of us who want to push for a more accepting and tolerant society, studying at Griffith and being part of the musical theatre program has allowed us to open up these conversations.”
Fellow musical theatre student Carla Beard is playing one of the T-Birds – a role usually played by a male performer.
“It’s great to break free of traditional male/ female casting,” she said.
“I think our generation is having all of these conversations, and the arts tends to be on the front foot of all of these social movements.
“It’s nice to know after we graduate that we can demand more from the industry.”
The creative team is led by Melbourne-based theatre director Alister Smith, musical director Heidi Loveland and choreographer Dan Venz.
Mr Smith said the creative team had worked with students on a modern interpretation of the show, leaning into the satire and making use of gender-diverse casting.
“Grease is a musical comedy satire that challenges social rules and the generation gap by exploring sexuality and gender equality through the eyes of these 1950s teenagers,” he said.
“A huge part of re-imagining this revival has been cross-casting the gender of several characters, refocusing the lens of the story and giving modern audiences a way of re-experiencing the show.”
Ms Loveland said the production had also dialed up the music – capturing the raw, rebellious mood of the original Broadway show.
“This music is so iconic and everyone has a memory and a connection to it, but as soon as you start investigating the lyrics you realise that this music is about protest and rebellion. It is teenagers standing up saying ‘this is our time’.”
Ms Loveland said it had been inspiring to work with the musical theatre students to reinterpret the script and score for modern audiences.
“Looking at Sandy’s transformation, it was really important that it was about self-fulfillment, as opposed to peer pressure or trying to please a man,” she said.
“We’re lucky that we have a group of really strong-minded students who have engaged with the script and the lyrics to create an honest and vital show.”
Head of Performing Arts Professor Paul Sabey said the Queensland Conservatorium was committed to addressing social issues through performance.
“The arts have the potential to bridge different perspectives and encourage people to think about the challenges facing our society – from gender equity to social injustice.”
The blockbuster production will feature a double cast of more than 70 students, involving the entire musical theatre cohort, accompanied by musicians from the Queensland Conservatorium.
Grease runs at the Queensland Conservatorium Theatre, South Bank from 5 – 14 August. Tickets are available at the Queensland Conservatorium website.