Theatre Review: Grease the Musical is a non-stop extravaganza of electrifying hits

Calling all gals and guys – welcome to Rydell High, where romances are flourishing, tensions are rising, and most importantly, grease is the word. Grease the Musical has grooved its way back to Australian shores, and this time it’s bigger, slicker and sexier than ever before. Sandy, Danny, the T-Birds and the Pink Ladies all return for what is without a doubt the party musical of the year – an unmissable night of fun.

Iconic. Timeless. Beloved. The story of Grease is one that has stood the test of time, dazzling generations of fans with the high school romance of Danny Zuko and Sandy Dumbrowski, two star-crossed lovers brought to life here by rising stars Joseph Spanti and Annelise Hall. This new adaptation celebrates everything there is to love about Grease, from the 1950s flair to the electrifying soundtrack, and does so with a bold, bright and modern aesthetic that adds some serious wow factor.

From the opening musical number in Grease is the Word, this multi-million-dollar production makes a clear statement – they’ve spared absolutely no expense. The set design helmed by James Browne and lighting design from Trudy Dalgleish is truly world-class, working in unison to create spectacular set pieces that garnered collective awe from the entire audience. Dalgleish’s lighting design is especially impactful in giving the production a bright, sleek look to emphasise the more modern aesthetic. Bright would be an understatement – some sequences are lit so vividly that there might have been a glow emanating from outside Melbourne’s Her Majesty’s Theatre. It’s something small, but it adds greatly to the show’s magnificence.

The large-scale set is made up of two enormous grandstands and some high-reaching wall panels, a simple setup at first glance, but one that’s utilised with astounding creativity to represent a multitude of locations. The underside of the grandstand is constantly reworked to serve different locations, going from Rizzo’s bedroom to the inside of local hangout, Burger Palace. The switching of these sets is made possible by the rotating stage and large grandstand, allowing the next set to be established at the rear of the stage entirely out of sight. This is fantastic in avoiding the use of blackouts to set up a scene change. Blackouts aren’t a bad thing, they’re an essential part of musical theatre, but their absence here helped create a seamless, non-stop night of good vibes. Aside from the intermission to separate Acts I and II, the musical flows from one set piece to the next with hardly a second of downtime.

What makes Grease the undisputed party musical of the year? It’s one unforgettable hit after the next. From upbeat tracks that make you want to hand jive in the aisles to sombre melodies that heighten Danny and Sandy’s love story, the music is the driving force of the production. The celebratory tone is set near-immediately with Grease is the Word, the iconic title track accompanied with high-energy choreography from the entire company. Other big hits, including Greased Lightnin’ and Summer Nights, deliver big thrills and infectious sing-along moments. Obviously you have your showstoppers, but the production doesn’t play favourites, giving even the slowest of songs, like Hopelessly Devoted to You, its moment to shine amongst the upbeat fun.

Stepping into the role of popular bad-boy Danny is Joseph Santi, delivering a layered performance that captures the essence of the character. He nails both the cool guy attitude and vulnerable romantic that the Danny character is known for. Whether he’s rocking out in Greased Lightnin’ or slowing things down to nail his performance of Sandy, his singing performance is on point and he’s a joy to watch. He plays well opposite Annelise Hall, who is exceptional in conveying Sandy’s innocent personality and trepidatious yet confident attitude. Their chemistry and understanding of their characters’ relationship is strong, ensuring their romantic scenes together are as fun and rewarding as they should be. We don’t get to see much of bad-girl Sandy in the end of the production as they call curtain moments after she makes the transition, which would be my only gripe.

Whoever was in charge of casting this production deserves a pat on the back for how every cast member matches their more-famous film counterparts in both likeness and personality. Specifically, Keanu Gonzalez and Mackenzie Dunn turn in exceptional performances as Kenickie and Rizzo, capturing the loud, boisterous attitude of their characters so well that they command the stage whenever they enter. Dunn gets her moment to shine in her emotion-driven rendition of There Are Worse Things I Could Do, in which she showcases her immense vocal talents that should continue to get her much more stage experience.

Also featured in the cast are three veteran performers who need no introduction. Patty Newton is gracing Melbourne performances as Miss Lynch, Jay Laga’aia enters the fold as Vince Fontaine and the legendary Marcia Hines shows up to effortlessly deliver a mesmerising performance as Teen Angel. Both Newton and Laga’aia don’t have more than a couple of scenes each, but their experience as industry veterans sees them make an immediate impact. However it’s Marcia Hines who puts her powerful vocals and show-stopping energy to use in her rendition of Beauty School Dropout. It’s one of the highlights of the production, indicated by the roars and applause from the wonderstruck crowd that could have lifted the roof off the theatre.

Throughout the entire production, the glitz and glamour of the 50’s is evident in the utterly stunning costumes. James Browne nails this marrying of old and new, putting a chic, modern spin on the 50’s inspired fashion to create some vibrant, dashing looks. The variety of costumes are on full display in the medley that closes out the show, a medley so good it may just be the best I’ve ever seen on the stage. The medley at the end of a show is typically a brief minute of joy where the audience gets a chance to join in on the fun. This medley felt more like a celebration of Grease with how it cycles through the show’s biggest hits and signature moments one last time. A fitting farewell to an exceptional night.

If you’re looking for something to liven up your summer nights, it doesn’t get much better than this. Grease the Musical is a non-stop extravaganza of energetic musical numbers, big laughs and dazzling choreography. The atmosphere in Melbourne’s Her Majesty’s Theatre is the most electrifying I have ever witnessed, setting a high bar for party musicals. With a killer soundtrack of iconic hits that’ll have you wanting to sing along, this is one celebration that’s not to be missed. Kick off the new year the right way, with Grease.


Grease the Musical is now playing at Her Majesty’s Theatre in Melbourne through to March 10th, 2024. The party continues in Sydney from March 24th and Perth from June 30th. For more information and to purchase tickets, head HERE.

Reviewer attended on Tuesday January 9th, 2024

Photo credit: Jeff Busby