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GREASE (article first published : 2006-05-19)

The Durban season is virtually a sell-out, so there couldnít have been too many people who might have balked at the thought of forking out R150 a ticket for this new staging of the classic 50s-set musical, Grease, at The Barnyard at Gateway.

The high price, one gathers, was necessitated by the fact that Barnyard Productions forked out some R1.3 million for the South African touring rights to this massively popular stage show. But the good news is that this zestful production, the first locally to also use songs from the hit 1978 movie, is worth the dosh, even if it means hard seats and, at a few Barnyard tables, some cramped conditions.

Not only does this Grease qualify as one of the Barnyardís finest entertainments to date, but it also gets my vote as the best of the four productions of the musical that Iíve seen in recent years on a local stage. Its biggest plus is a spirited, highly talented cast in excellent voice, deftly directed by Ian von Memerty and very well choreographed by Strictly Come Dancingís Harold van Buuren.

Grease stars Project Fame talent search finalist Steve Peralta in the role made famous on screen by John Travolta. And if heís not exactly the greatest Danny Zuko, he more than gets by on his boyish charm, a pleasing singing voice and his trademark six-pack, which is paraded on two occasions and is a huge hit with the women in the audience, who are quick to make their appreciation known.

Grease, as everyone knows, tells of the fun, friendships and affairs of teens in 50s America, where hip T-Birds gang leader Dannyís new girl, conservative and seemingly squeaky-clean Sandy (Natasha Staples), considers a makeover to secure his love. Packed with fun characters and terrific songs, the production unwinds on a single set by Stan Knight which, if not overly impressive, proves economical and functional. It depicts a school hall and a curtained stage and, with a few clever props here and there, becomes a bedroom, a gym and a drive-in.

The show boasts fun costumes by Durbanís Andrew Verster, attractive lighting by Denis Hutchinson and good recorded music, arranged by Sean Butler. The cast of 17, under the vocal direction of Roelof Colyn, features clear standouts in spunky Lee Rath (wife of Isidingo star Brandon Auret) as tough cookie Rizzo; and new-name-to-watch Jonathan Roxmouth, in the dual role of flamboyant DJ Vince Fontaine and dreamboat Johnny, who sings the ballad Beauty School Dropout.

Also great value are Carly Graeme, a delight as squeaky-voiced Frenchy; and lively Steven Hicks, who offers a scene-stealing Kenickie, Dannyís chief chum. Natasha Staples (Backstageís Bobby and one of the merry murderesses in the SA touring production of Chicago) makes a perky, gorgeous Sandy, even if her Hopelessly Devoted to You wasnít top-notch the night I attended. Still in the vocal department, Clinton Hawks, as Doody, sings a showstopping Magic Changes, while Pierre van Heerden (also seen in Chicago), as T-Bird member Roger, makes good, alongside Rozanne Mckenzie as Jan, with Mooning.

When it comes to the best show in town right now, Grease is the word. To book, contact 031 566 3045. Ė Billy Suter




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