Grease

Sydney Lyric, October 17

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Photo: Jeff Busby.

The ’50s had only roared off to rock’n’roll Valhalla a dozen years earlier when Grease first appeared: just the right time-lapse for a spot of nostalgia. Now the ’50s are a fading memory for some and a planet full of aliens for others, so Grease must thrive or dive without the prop of nostalgia. Ultimately it dives.

The story is so flimsy it would disintegrate if you frowned at it. The characters are corny and the songs, with a couple of notable exceptions, forgettable. Yes, it still beats countless shows, but, tellingly, Jersey Boys, a mere jukebox musical, eclipses it in all departments.

For Grease to fire in 2013 it needed a cast zinging with charisma from first to last. When Todd McKenney turns up as Teen Angel (a sort of camp, blond Elvis) half way through Act Two you feel the show lift, and realise that he has just added that crucial zing.

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Rob Mills and Gretel Scarlett, with Lucy Maunder looking on. Photo: Jeff Busby.

Otherwise Lucy Maunder stands out as the feisty Rizzo, turning in the night’s strongest vocal performance on There Are Worse Things I Could Do. Rob Mills and Gretel Scarlett, however, cannot quite compensate for the two-dimensional creation of the lead characters, Danny and Sandy, although Scarlett shines more when Sandy finally mutates from ingenue to siren. They, like the rest of the leads, lack that McKenney magic factor.

Director David Gilmore recreates his London production with local talent, and the ensemble singing is excellent, while the dancing, after some shabby moments early on, is even better. But Gilmore has not solved the problem of our not really caring about the outcome, and most of the humour is just sliced ham.

Speaking of ham, Bert Newton is back on the boards as DJ Vince Fontaine, and Anthony Callea briefly exercises his potent larynx as Johnny Casino.

It’s still fun – if not as much as it could have been – and is certainly better at being Grease than the current Hamlet is at being Hamlet.