Review By Regan Baker
If you have read one of my reviews before you would probably be used to my waffling on at the start here to give light-hearted context and an introduction to the show I have just seen - but not today - for the word count simply isn’t long enough to cover everything I want to say!
Grease is not my favourite musical; let’s just get that out in the open straight away, but after tonight’s performance by the musical theatre students of the Queensland Conservatorium, Griffith University, I may be a permanent convert. While students they may be, there was nothing but professional performances on show tonight in what can only be described as a show-stopping celebration of some of Australia’s best up-and-coming musical talent. After completing their third-year performances just a few short weeks ago, the graduating students of The Con were asked to rama-lama-ding-dong their way over to Brisbane’s largest performing arts stage in what has been described by Professor Bernard Lanskey, the Director of Queensland Conservatorium, as a historic new partnership.
This reimagining of the Jim Jacobs and Warren Casey classic features two casts, whereby the six leading female roles alternate nightly (as the cohort skews female), while the remaining roles stay unchanged throughout the season. The leading cast of third years were backed by more than forty first and second year students in the ensemble, creating a sight rarely (if ever) seen on a Brisbane stage before; 50+ musically brilliant actors belting out some of the most famous musical numbers in history. The collaboration between director Alister Smith, musical director Heidi Loveland, and choreographer Dan Venz was superb in coordinating such a large cast that filled the set with near-perfect synchronicity. Their modern evolution of some of the most memorable dance moves ever choreographed sparked joy in a whole new generation of musical theatre lovers, as kids swarmed the hallways at the end of the show replicating ‘Greased Lightning.’
Tonight’s Rama Lama cast featured Lucinda Wilson in the leading role of Sandy, who shone brighter in the spotlight than some industry professionals I have seen previous. Her vocal range and accuracy were beautifully honed and in the second act she particularly stood out as a future star. Sean Johnston channeled his inner John Travolta and delivered a powerful performance as Danny. If he doesn’t land a role somewhere straight out of uni I would be shocked. Jaime Mollineaux (Rizzo), Amelia Burton (Frenchy), Nina Carcione (Jan) and Hannah Paul (Marty) were stunning Pink Ladies and gelled well on stage. Their partnerwork and intertwining performances were both well-choreographed and brilliantly acted. The exact same can be said for the Greasers. Hanlon Innocent played a comically innocent Doody, Harry Pitts a marvelously strong Roger and Carla Beard did an amazing job on channeling a male spirit and performing as Sonny. An extra special mention has to go out to Daniel Erbacher, who took on a completely new role for this QPAC run, but delivered one of the best overall performances. Originally cast and performing as Eugene in the grad shows, he stepped into the role of Kenickie with only a few weeks’ notice after his predecessor, Liam Head, took a grad opportunity interstate.
Speaking of stepping up, Rohan Treanor must be praised for his delivery of Eugene and filling the opening that Daniel left with his promotion. Treanor is the only second year with a lead role in these performances but he presented just as strongly as his third year colleagues. My favourite performance of the evening, however, has to go to Beau Wharton who took on the cross-dressing role of Miss Lynch with dominance. If Matilda ever makes its way back to Australia, I want to see this talented young man playing the Trunchbull. Kiara Whittle was a fantastically funny and jealous Patty and Genevieve Langford looked strong as Cha-Cha. Nate Stevenson (Vince Fontaine), Elizabeth Ball (Johnny Casino) and Nava Revalk (Teen Angel) sung beautifully and had strong performances in their minor roles. In summary – the cast were amazing. No one role stood out as being weaker than the next, and the casting choices as a whole were fantastic. The Greasers overall probably had a slightly stronger show tonight than the Pink Ladies, but I’m splitting greasy hairs here.
The set design by Adam Gardnir blew me away a little bit in its elaborateness, keeping in mind this is a university performance. The stage was wrapped in a three-story scaffold that often hosted the ensemble, while moving elements of lockers, cars and other pieces of set were moved on and off the stage in well-choreographed routines. The costuming from Sophia Morris was stunning and the entire cast looked the part of being in a 1959 high school. Lighting by Keith Clark was pretty simple in the most part (it didn’t need to be excessive) but the colour palette and use of lighting on the scaffold rigging worked well in creating a brilliant atmosphere. Sound design by Steve Thornely was pretty good for the most part, though there were a few moments were microphones weren’t turned up in time, or turned up loud enough to properly capture the lyric.
While I never had doubt that the depth of talent was going to be phenomenal, the overall production value that went into putting this show together went far beyond my expectations. If you took out the “QPAC presents the musical theatre students of Queensland Conservatorium, Griffith University” from the top of the program, you would never have guessed that this was not a professional production. Before tonight I would not have considered going to third year grad shows, but I will be from now on.