Portfolio of Kimberly Johans

A collection of articles created during my stint as a journalist at The Macau Daily Times

Lightning strikes Macau for Grease musical

Posted by Kimberly on October 27, 2007

By Kimberly Johans
Published in The Macau Daily Times
October 27, 2007, page 16 (970 words)

Just the word brings up images of pink ladies, a 1948 Ford and blue eyes. The blue eyes belong to Danny Zuko, of course. Who could forget that moment in the movie, when John Travolta turns at the sound of his name and those eyes stare right into your soul before the cheeky grin follows.
Yet, while many no doubt believe that the world-famous, box-office smash starring Olivia Newton-John along with Travolta was the original, this was far from the case.
Grease began as a musical, back in 1971. The current musical gracing Macau’s Cultural Auditorium over the next three nights is an updated version of that, not the movie itself, as explained Director Ray DeMattis.
“The original musical was more like a play. There weren’t musical numbers. There were two people that sang or Danny sang his ballad but there weren’t big dance numbers in the show.
“That’s something that changed from what was first produced in the early 70s to what we’ve been working on in 2000.
He added that the current versions include more dance, with the school dance “it’s own explosive number, even the opening into Summer Nights has a lot more choreography,” not to mention that famous song ‘Beauty School Dropout’ being sung gospel style.
For those unfamiliar with the plot, it begins in 1959 at Rydell High, where Sandy Dumbrowski has just come to attend school from Australia.
It turns out that she and the leader of the Burger Palace Boys gang, Danny Zuko, had a brief love affair the prior summer.
While on the one hand, Sandy puts emphasis on the emotional attachment she and Danny share, Danny is busy convincing his friends of an attachment of a different kind.
As the school year goes on, stories of love, gang violence, pregnancy and friendship unfold.
In the end, after a hilarious identity switch, Danny and Sandy resolve their differences, profess their love and end up ‘together forever.’
Asked how relevant the story is in an age where innocence is practically a long-forgotten ideal, Ray said, “we’ve changed, society and our point of view changed.
“There is an element of innocence about it, in that particular period but in terms of production, the world is changing and we tried to take that into account as we went into it.”
But, he was quick to add, “I think deep down inside, people still want to fall in love and have a sense of romance. I think that is the common denominator but this is about love. I think some of the themes in the show are as simple as that.”
Then there’s the end song, ‘We go Together’ that’s all about “community, about family and sticking together.
“I think love is an abstraction of something that will never go away or go out of style,” he added.
This version of the musical has been in existence since 2000, with the main actors, Jamey Isenor as Danny and Hanna-Linna Vosa as Sandy, having played those characters since 2001.
And what’s astonishing about that, are the number of shows they’ve done: early last year they’d just passed 400 shows, which means that now, more than a year later, it must surely be up to the 500 mark.
Yet at the beginning, their experiences of their respective characters were as different as chalk and cheese.
“For me [the movie character] played a big part,” said Jamey.
“I grew up and I hadn’t seen Grease at all until I auditioned for it for the first time when I was 21 years old.
“I didn’t know anything about the character at all, so I was watching the movie and walking around in my living room imitating John Travolta, starting to feel what the character was,” he added.
For Hanna, who’d seen the movie “many years before”, it wasn’t a case of life mimicking art.
“I saw it again after I’d done the role already for maybe a year or so, so it was interesting to see how I’d pictured the role to be and how it actually was and how I brought it to life.
“I definitely wasn’t going around in my living room copying Olivia Newton-John,” she added laughingly.
And one would have thought that having done so many shows together would have meant a decline of their passion for the role, and yet, according to Jamey, that passion is there “more than ever!
Hannah added, “I’m from Estonia which is a little country in Europe and the show is about American teenagers in the 50s.
“I mean a teenager is the same all over the world but, the American culture in the 50s is very different than where I’m from,” she said, which seemed to be such a fascination for her.
Asked what she brought to the role, Hanna responded with “I think I bring a lot of myself into the role” but added that in unfamiliar environments, “whenever I come into a group of people, I feel a little bit intimidated I guess. I don’t know what’s going to happen. Once I get to know everybody, it’s not that scary anymore.”
What would have been more natural to be afraid of were the dance moves required of the two actors, especially during the school dance scene, yet neither felt any concern, laughing off the suggestion.
And additionally, it’s the audience that makes all the difference, so when asked about their ‘worst audience’ Hanna came up with an amusing story about a group of Korean school girls that screamed throughout the entire performance of one of their shows, to the point where the cast had trouble hearing themselves.
Of course, a Macau audience would never be so voluble but the appreciation will nevertheless be plainly evident, even for those first-timers to the story, who amazingly enough, still exist.


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