In the midst of chilling winds and depressing news stories, teenage summer romance and rock n’ roll are surely a welcome. And so it goes that on 27th February Van Mildert College’s Feather Theatre Company presented their production of the classic 1971 musical, ‘Grease’. The stage of Caedmon Hall was filled with the spirit of youthful joy as soon as the cast entered the stage with their vintage 50s dresses as the bass drum started the beat. Lauren Spowart’s production had its share of lacklustre moments, though overall the night’s performance left an impression of sheer fun and gaiety, if not terribly striking.
About the two leads of the show – Nina Hayward’s portrayal of Sandy, the ‘good girl’ and newcomer at the school, was gentle and likeable, and when Sandy sang out her distress or her happiness the audience was moved by her silvery voice. On the other hand, near the end of the show Sandy, determined to shrug off her demure persona, stunned the boys in her sensual black vest and high heels; but it seemed that Hayward was not yet entirely transformed into Sandy’s new self and did not manage completely to bring out this different image. The other lead, Adam Trusted’s Danny, was a poster-boy image of a high school ‘cool’ kid and head of the gang you expected to see; his childishness mingled with his charisma well.
Amongst the rest of the main cast, Aoife Walter’s performance was probably the most memorable one. Her Rizzo was sultry, bold and full of swagger. Although a little intimidating when confronting Sandy, touches of vulnerability sometimes shone through – not to mention Walter’s singing was simply magnetic, especially during ‘There Are Worse Things I Could Do’. Ben Cooper, who played Doody, a member of Danny’s gang, sang a particularly sweet and enjoyable ‘Those Magic Changes’. It is safe to say that all members of the supporting cast put on an entertaining performance, be it the sassy Pink Ladies or the too-tough-for-school T-birds. When they gathered together one saw a clique of colourful individuals with their distinct personalities and voices, interacting and sometimes clashing or merging together with each other.
For me the best part of the night comes with the dance, and more specifically the sight of the whole cast dancing and moving on stage. The band had done a great job playing bouncy and vigorous rock numbers – but with the singing, especially during ‘Summer Nights’, the microphones sometimes failed to convey the voice of performers in the midst of all the movements and shuffling around. In some other instances the lead singer’s voice was drowned out by the chorus, instead of standing out from the background and, as a result, the solo numbers were almost always more enjoyable than the parts with the chorus singing. The choreographers Christy Cheung and Caitlin Large did a fantastic job in transforming one back to the twist dance, the early rock n’ roll shows and old teenage movies, so energetic and dynamic, with the right amount of comical fun added in. The constant changes of formation were so clever, making the stage a more animated space, and both the choreographers and the cast deserve praise for planning and delivering these complex changes well. Completed with the costume and stage design, which faithfully revived vintage 50s fashion, presenting each member of the cast in their dashing leather jackets or bright dresses, it was sheer enjoyment to watch every chorus number. The dancing of ‘Greased Lightnin’’ and ‘Summer Nights’ truly left one with vivid impressions of the performance.
It is amazing when one realises that the scenes and songs from ‘Grease’ can at the same time feel so old and new – they fill one with nostalgia as well as the freshness of teenage rebelliousness. And that is precisely what Lauren Spowart’s production succeeded in – creating an atmosphere of vibrant, adolescent fun. What else can one say? It is ‘Grease’, and you know you are going to enjoy it.
‘Grease’ is being performed again Friday 28th and Saturday 29th February at 7:30pm in Caedmon Hall, College of St Hild and St Bede.
By Yasmine Zong
Photograph by Lauren Spowart.