GREASE: THE ARENA SPECTACULAR LIVE!

MORE FM ARENA, DUNEDIN 2016

GREASE - An incredible achievement:

"With a few notable exceptions – big sporting fixtures, the Star Regent 24 Hour Book Sale, and Wiggles shows – it is pretty rare to see a block-long queue for entry to a Dunedin venue.   

But that was the sight that greeted about 3500 excited fans last night, as they packed in to Dunedin's More FM Arena, at the Edgar Centre, to experience a unique take on an enduring musical classic in Grease: The Arena Spectacular Live!.
An ambitious joint project for Doug Kamo's DKCM production company and Taieri Musical Society, Grease: The Arena Spectacular Live! is a an epic show in every respect.

Working ‘in the round' in the vast arena space requires a step-up in scale for every aspect of the show – the sets, props, costumes, sound, and above-all the performance. And with what has been enormous dedication to the cause over many months, Kamo and his mixed team of professionals and enthusiastic 
amateurs have achieved their goals.

Cudos goes to the creative team of Kamo (director), Emma Holloway (choreographer), Jennifer Hughson (wardrobe designer and manager), Michael Grant (vocal supervisor), and the incredible Oxo Cubans, who take on the dual roles of musical direction and show band.

Through a series of massive song and dance numbers – chiefly the Grease greatest hits such as ‘Summer Nights', ‘Greased Lightning', ‘We Go Together' and ‘You're the One That I Want' – the highly mobile cast make excellent use of the entire performance platform and parts of the aisles, thereby ensuring that audience members on all three sides feel part of the action.

The same is true of New Zealand music star Jason Kerrison's delightful cameos as Johnny Casino – spicing up the dance contest with the song ‘Born to Handjive', and ‘Teen Angel' – floating in on a hover board, surrounded by bling-encrusted nymphs to sing ‘Beauty School Dropout'.

In the lead roles of Sandy and Danny, Sophie Morris and Samuel Armstrong achieve a nice chemistry, forming a focal point amid a lot of stage business and winning audience sympathy. Both move well and are in very fine voice indeed _ with particular stand-out moments in ‘Summer Nights' (duo), ‘Hopelessly Devoted To You' (Morris), and ‘Sandy' (Armstrong).

Adding verve, comedy, and some equally fantastic vocal moments to the show are the Pink Ladies – Charlotte Mckay (Rizzo), Jennifer Hughson (Frenchy), Charlotte Hayward (Marty) and Leah Hay (Jan), and TBirds: Ethan Keenan (Kenickie), Ben Thomas (Doody), Taylor Roche (Sonny) and Evan Fenemor (Roger). Highlights from these performers include Mckay's rendition of ‘Look At Me I'm Sandra Dee', and great ensemble work, particularly among the men.

Nicely-timed touches of comedy are also added by Bryn Monk (Eugene) and Hannah Doogan (Patty), while Callum Procter (Vince Fontaine), Harriet Moir (Miss Lynch), and Lauren Johnson (Cha-Cha) step in with quality cameos.

Clever choreography by Emma Holloway ensures that all sides of the arena get their share of ‘face time' from the cast, and spectacular props (including a full-sized classic car), lighting and projection focus the gaze.

Costuming, by Jennifer Hughson, is designed to push the boundaries of a traditional Grease show, with touches of nostalgia for the 1950s. This is nicely achieved, with lots of denim and swirly skirts, while the TBirds and Pink Ladies (particularly Rizzo) are suitably distinctive.

The structure of the cast is interesting, with 15 members of the ensemble taking the role of Rydell High School students, dancing and singing with great energy. Their vocal efforts are enhanced by a 14-member chorus, who add both sound and movement from their position at the proscenium end of the 
stage.

Led by Craig Reeves, Doug Wright and Marcel Rodeka, Dunedin music legends The Oxo Cubans – here in nine-piece format – tie the whole show together with consummate skill and rock-solid timing.

Mixing the sound of a full band and amplified singers in such a large, echoing space, can be difficult, but the balance achieved by sound designer Glen Ruske, of BounceNZ, is spot on.

Tech also plays an important role in Grease: The Arena Spectacular Live! and is nimbly handled by technical manager Gary Gibson, lighting designer Dave Sparks, and set mechanics Jim Monson. The result is a big show with very big effects.
At its most epic, Grease: The Arena Spectacular Live! fills the space and engages its audience – right to the back corners. However, in quieter moments, particularly during the dialogue in between set-pieces, the distance to the audience makes it more difficult to connect with the characters.

Thankfully though, the big numbers come thick and fast, energy is high and there is plenty of fun to go around.

Overall, Grease: The Arena Spectacular Live! is an incredible achievement and a credit to all involved. Bravo!"

 - Brenda Harwood, Theatre Review