Grease is still the word

Grease is still the word
Image: Joseph Spanti as Danny and Annelise Hall as Sandy in GREASE. Image: Hugh Stewart

It was first written in the 1970s. It is set in the 1950s. It was a blockbuster film in the 1980s. And now, 53 years after its theatre debut it is coming back in a multi-million dollar, completely revised staging that will make it feel as fresh and electric as the day it was born. 

Grease the Musical returns in a brand new, all Australian John Frost production in 2024 for a huge season in Melbourne and Sydney. 

First staged in 1971 in Chicago, and written by Jim Jacobs and Warren Casey, Grease captures the nostalgia of 1950s America, the complexities of being a teenager and the microcosmic world of high school. Though it is steeped in classic American culture, its themes of love, youth, fun, friends, rebellion, conflict and coming of age are universal. 

Joseph Spanti as Danny and Annelise Hall as Sandy in GREASE. Image: Hugh Stewart

The musical was a success, travelling to Broadway in 1972 and then the West End in 1973, but it was arguably the 1978 film adaptation that elevated Grease to legendary status. Starring John Travolta as Danny Zuko and our own Olivia Newton-John as Sandy Olsson, the film is among the highest grossing musical films of all time and is quite likely one of the most watched films ever. 

The film included additional songs written by John Farrar (who penned many of Newton-John’s big hits) and Barry Gibb and these songs have since been incorporated into the stage musical. 

For many Australians and even fans around the world, the spirit of Olivia Newton-John will always be in Sandy and Grease will always have extra special meaning. With the death of Newton-John this year, this new production of Grease the Musical will be all the more poignant. 

To celebrate and commemorate Newton-John’s work and life, the Olivia Newton-John Cancer Wellness & Research Centre has been announced as the Official Charity Partner. Closing the circle of connection, Annelise Hall, who is playing Sandy in the new show, is also the official Ambassador for Olivia’s Walk for Wellness this year.

Olivia Newton-John and John Travolta in original hero image for GREASE (1978)

“To be part of the charity and then bring those experiences into the production as well, I think it’s going to be very special for me,” says Hall. “ I have always looked up to Olivia Newton-John. Growing up she was a big part of my life – my mum, my sisters, we always looked up to her. She, to me, is the kind of person that you just couldn’t say a bad thing about.”

Hall is very aware that the shadow – or perhaps more correctly, the light – of ONJ is ever present in Grease and particularly in the role of Sandy, and Hall absolutely respects that. 

“But then again I also want to have a bit of my own twist on the role. I want to bring her warmth, her professionalism, but I also want to bring a bit of Annelise spice and try to keep [Sandy] funny, keep her light – give her a 2023 lens and give it a fresh perspective as well.”

Joseph Spanti as Danny and Annelise Hall as Sandy in GREASE. Image: Hugh Stewart

Hall is actually a bit of a Grease veteran. She played Danny in her high school all-girl production when she was just 13. Later, in a Queensland Conservatorium production she landed the coveted role of Sandy. That same production was picked up by QPAC (Queensland Performing Arts Centre), and Hall played Sandy on a mainstage. 

When it came to auditioning for this new production, Hall was surprisingly relaxed.

“I think I felt really confident because I was so used to playing the role and my goal in the audition was to make them laugh. I just wanted them to have a good time,” she explains. “I think Sandy can sometimes be seen as a little bit vanilla, so my goal is to make her funny, make her more of a 3D character. Make her someone that’s likeable but also genuine and real and has a really human element to her.”

Playing opposite Hall, in the role of Danny Zuko, is Joseph Spanti. Spanti’s recent credits include the TV series Dive Club, playing Joey in Friends! The Musical Parody, and playing Greg in Cruel Intentions: The 90’s Musical.

“From the moment that Joe and I met I just felt like it was really easy, really good chemistry,” says Hall. “I think we’ll definitely find our own rhythm with the characters and I’m definitely looking forward to creating some magic in the room with him.”

Spanti’s original introduction to Grease was via his Nonna’s DVD player; he has fond memories of watching the movie repeatedly with her. Like Olivie Newton-John with Sandy, John Travolta is seen as the prototype for Danny. It’s hard to avoid imitation while still preserving the core character. 

So how did Spanti approach his audition?  

“I actually just went in giving it whatever ideas I already had in my head for the character. I also saw some bootlegs online and I really wanted to try something different with it, just kind of put my own swing on it, because as much as they’re iconic roles, I really wanted to be authentic to my version of the character that I’ll be creating, which fortunately Luke [Joslin], the director, was happy with.”

Spanti describes this production of Grease the Musical as an homage to the original, but unique, authentic and distinctly Australian. 

“It’s all Australian, all new. Luke and the team are not using any of the original set or design from the original production — the one that was here 10 years ago — it’s all new, which is also really exciting,” says Spanti, who is familiar with touring shows that originate in Broadway or the West End and get staged here as a carbon copy. 

“Audiences are going to be pretty blown away when they see what the Australian production is going to bring to the stage around Australia.”

From March 24, 2024, tickets on sale now. 

Capital Theatre, 13 Campbell St, Haymarket

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