Grease at the Artscape, Broadway Rocks at Barnyard Theatre My Reviews 29 MAR 2010

So in the space of two weeks I got to take in two different shows, the first being the wonderfully energetic Grease over at the Artscape in Cape Town and the second being the fun sing-along Broadway Rocks, put on at the always inviting Barnyard Theatre out in Willowbridge Mall, Durbanville.

In terms of the Grease production, what can I really say? The show is a legend in its own right, having been first brought to life back in 1971 by writers Jim Jacobs and Warren Casey and proving such a success that it remains to this day one of the most easily recognised theatre pieces alongside the likes of Cats, Phantom of the Opera, Les Miserables, Chicago, etc. It has enjoyed success around the world, particularly on the West End and remains Broadway’s thirteenth longest-running show.

Now it’s here on our shores thanks to the ever enterprising king of theater productions, Pieter Toerien, together with Paul Nicholas and David Ian and features a full South African cast who are tasked with bringing this fun story revolving around high-school hi-jinks in the 1950’s to life. For those of you who aren’t familiar with the story at all (I’d be surprised really), Grease grabs its name from the 1950s subculture known as Greasers, basically boys who like to fight, drive cars, wear leather jackets and look as pretty as possible by styling their hair with all the hair grease they could lay their hands on!

The story follows a group of ten students split across two groups, the T-Birds Greasers and the Pink Ladies, as they navigate the complexities of love, cars and drive-ins, dealing with themes of violence, love, friendship, sexual exploration and teenage pregnancy. The score attempts to capture liveliness and feel good rebel vibe associated with the sounds of the early rock and roll movement, and in its initial form, was a fairly raunchy, raw, aggressive and actually vulgar production. However, over the years it has been sanitized and tamed down and thanks to the highly successful 1978 movie starring John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John, got embedded in deep popular culture’s memory.

Like I mentioned, the Artscape production is an entirely South African produced affair and I must say, hats off to the set designers who have come up with an absolutely stellar array of sliding, moving, lit-up set and prop pieces, including an absolutely ingenious rotating car and a simply sublimely concealed live band area. And talking about the band, they are simply fantastic. They produce some absolutely energetic renditions of all the classic Grease songs and with the highly animated conductor doing his thing in front of them, it seems that they can’t put a single note wrong.

And then of course there are the actors. For the most part the cast all fit their respective roles perfectly, going right across the spectrum of types of people and all delivering energetic performances with faithful reproductions of all the well known characters that most of us are so familiar with at this stage. Of course special mention must be made of the actress portraying Sandy and the actor playing Danny and the chemistry that these two share comes across as genuine and works well through the story. Of course, Grease is most about fun and laughs and I must say that I really enjoyed the comedic timing from just about everyone, having quite a few chuckles throughout, though hands down the biggest laugh must go to the shower scene because that one had the entire audience in tears and cheers!

Overall it is a very slick production which showcases some great music, good vocal talent (though I did complain that one or two of the singers made it difficult for me to hear their lyrics properly) and is a honest fun bit of entertainment that really should not be missed if you’re a fan of the show.

However, if you’ve never seen it before and know nothing about Grease, you do need to be warned that the story doesn’t really come across as a strong story. It has a whole lot of little subplots swirling around the main romance plot which unfortunately gets resolved rather abruptly as the show kind of just ends mid story. But at least now you know, so you can go in and just sit and enjoy what does go on in the lead up to that all important black lycra suit ending! :P

The cast as seen in the final scene. (That sounded clever in my head you know...)

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And now onto the next one, namely Broadway Rocks at the Barnyard Theatre at Willowbridge. The concept of the show is simple. Up until the 1960s Broadway was generally an exclusive and snobbish affair. However, that all changed when Grease hit the stages and following that, the mould was broken and we got energized, relevant and often fun shows like Jesus Christ Superstar, Evita, The Buddy Holly Show, and The Rocky Horror Show. Then you got things like Riverdance making the jump, not to mention our very own Ipi Ntombi, and then of course it was those big tribute shows like Mamma Mia and We Will Rock You that truly cemented the bond between Rock ‘n Roll and Broadway.

Now what Broadway Rocks is doing is to take some of the biggest and best songs to come out of Broadway and package them all into a fun tribute trip down memory lane that will have you singing along with all the hits and marvelling at the awesome musical talent on display, never mind the rapid fire costume changes that appears to be happening with almost each and every song change!

Songs like We Will Rock You, Hakuna Matata, Let’s do the Timewarp, Greased Lightnin’ all make their appearance thanks to a fantastically fun and charged group of musicians and singers, that will have you tapping your feet and singing along, pizza in the left hand and beer in the right hand, and perhaps even dancing in the aisles should the mood take you!

I thoroughly enjoyed the show and the singers were genuinely amusing when they were meant to be and absolutely fantastic when they opened their mouths to sing, generating an absolute blast of entertainment for the evening (Hint: if you want to fall backwards over your chair then you’ve got to see the Rocky Horror Picture Show segment!).

Oh and did I mention the absolutely brilliant solo displays of saxophone, violin and guitar?

Seriously, well worth the ticket price if you’re looking for a night out of musical fun and laughter! :)

Sjoe, and that’s that I believe. Amazingly enough, I thoroughly enjoyed both musically slanted shows and believe it or not, now I’m kind of looking forward to Mamma Mia hitting our stages later on this year, a show that Chantelle is already dying to catch!

Weird… (me, not Chantelle) :P

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About Craig Lotter

South African software architect and developer at Touchwork. Husband to a cupcake baker and father to two little girls. I don't have time for myself any more.