Greased Lightning in 17th Ave supermarket

A hotrod becomes supermarket trolley for director Laura Boucher and musical director Callum Thorburn. Photo: Sharnae Hope.

Laura Boucher cuts her own cloth – the newbie musical theatre director is not constrained by what has gone before her.

“I knew definitively that I wanted to use the song Greased Lightning in the show – it’s a classic,” says Laura.

In the enormously popular 1971 musical Grease, it’s John Travolta and his guys with slicked back hair and varicose vein-inducing tight trousers fawning over a beast of a car.

“Why, this is automatic,” the song goes. “It’s systematic, it’s hydromatic, why it’s greased lightning.”

For Tauranga Musical Theatre’s new production, Now That’s What I Call TMT, Boucher has lifted that song and transported it into a modern-day setting.

“We’re setting it in a supermarket,” she explains. “The boys are mucking about and talking to their supermarket trolleys in the same adoring way, as if they are the most amazing cars in the world – stroking and polishing, imagining it’s the car of their dreams. It’s hilarious, and one of my favourites from the show.”

If that doesn’t make Jim Jacobs and Warren Casey, the original playwrights, a bit sniffy, it might rankle with some purists - the diehards who like their songs from musicals treated respectfully and in a traditional context.

“But one of the great things about musical theatre is the themes are universal,” says Laura. “They don’t need to be in their traditional show setting to mean something to people. The songs are eminently transportable.”

And Boucher - the former journalist who trained in the snake pit that is the Auckland women’s magazine industry before bringing her own distinctive entrepreneurial style to The Weekend Sun when she edited the newspaper - didn’t stop there.

She lifted Hey Big Spender, a song about nightclub girls taunting the customers from the 1966 hit musical Sweet Charity, and dropped it into a modern day office setting.

But the man who walked in the joint, the man of distinction, the big spender, is now the CEO when he walks into the office.

“It’s totally tongue in cheek, of course, particularly in the current climate. There’s no intent to offend.”

And of course Food, Glorious Food, from the show Oliver, now has a restaurant setting. Laura takes the gruel and creates drool.

“Diners in a restaurant are waiting for their food, and getting really impatient and dreaming about all the amazing things they are going to eat. It’s very funny.”

But what about the show? It’s a jukebox musical - a stage compilation of songs from popular musicals.

“Musical director Callum Thorburn and I have selected some of the classics - Grease, Les Misérables, South Pacific, Oliver, Annie - and then some newer ones including Waitress, Hamilton and Be More Chill.”

In all, 22 songs are parachuted into six different ‘now’ settings – the office, restaurant, home, supermarket, school and, in the end, the show brings it all back home to the theatre greenroom.

Because Now That’s What I Call TMT is a celebration of more than 70 years’ of musicals at Tauranga Musical Theatre. The name is also a take on the Now CDs – the best-selling compilations of the latest chart hits, ‘Now That’s What I Call Music’. It’s a theatre constantly evolving and pushing boundaries.

“We pride ourselves on that,” says the debut director. She may be edgy, but she also feels a mite vulnerable. “The production is a cool, exciting but scary process. It’s so different to being on stage – it is scarier because my vision is on the line.”

All of the songs in the show with a very long name are upbeat and celebratory – “there’s no sad songs allowed” – and some really big, well-known ensemble dance numbers, choreographed by Zoe Hunter and Nicki Fraser, because those numbers showcase musical theatre. 

Laura invites you to leave tired old perceptions and expectations at home. “The heart of the music is still there, in an exciting and fun way,” she says.

She just wants people, at a busy time of year, to come along, know the songs, sing along and have a really enjoyable time. Don’t think too hard about it.

Now That’s What I Call TMT is on at the Westside Theatre, 141 17th Avenue, for one week only from November 23 to December 1.

Tickets are available via: www.iTicket.co.nz or: www.tmt.org.nz




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