Grease: The Arena Experience
Harvest Rain, at Newcastle Entertainment Centre
NEWCASTLE Entertainment Centre’s quality as a venue for arena-style productions was shown when a national professional company chose it in 1998 for the trial run of an arena production of Grease that was touring Australia.
The current touring arena staging of Grease by Brisbane’s Harvest Rain musical theatre company further highlighted its quality with the 24 professional cast members supported by 772 juvenile performers drawn from the Hunter region.
As the musical is set in an American high school, with predominantly senior students as characters, and focuses on school-related gatherings and social get-togethers, the usage of so many young people was appropriate in the locale – and their performances further highlighted the skills of young performers in this region.
The whole junior ensemble smoothly made their ways into the arena for the numbers at the beginning and end of the two acts, with the finale, in which they danced and sang around the sides of the central platform while wearing the coats of the respective student female and male cliques, the Pink Ladies and T-Birds, had watchers in awe. And, in scenes such as a park picnic and a dance contest, smaller but still large ensembles gave excellent support to the onstage characters.
The staging team led by director and choreographer Callum Mansfield, and the professional performers, including Drew Weston and Meghan O’Shea, as the central characters, Danny and Sandy, likewise deserve applause because they only began rehearsing with the massive young ensemble in the week leading to the Newcastle season. The professional cast included Cessnock Golden Guitar winner Travis Collins as Johnny Casino, an amusing ‘greaser’ student at the story’s Rydell High who leads a rock ‘n’ roll band and likes to think of himself as a real rock ‘n’ roll idol, and local disc jockey Nick Gill, who was appropriately the MC of a hand-jive dance contest.