Remember the leather jacket, greasy hair and swagger John Travolta wore in Grease? Or Olivia Newton-John's pink poodle skirt that complemented her sweet personality and powerful vocals?
Grease is back and it’s ready to turn on the charm. But this version of the musical playing at the Arden Theatre on Thursday, Oct. 5 is titled Bear Grease, and it veers into Indigenous culture and traditions.
Bear Grease incorporates the original 1978 musical’s narrative and music into Indigenous culture along with hip-hop parodies, improv and freestyle. In several scenes, the Cree language is added to showcase a deeper meaning.
“We keep the blueprint of Grease where Sandy and Danny fall in love and Danny is dealing with the macho peer pressure. We keep the songs, but we’ve added Indigenous humour. And during the song Grease Lightning, we have a screen behind us that changes,” said Crystle Lightning who along with her husband MC RedCloud developed the parody.
“What’s interesting is we start with Motown music for the first 20 minutes. We are in matching dresses and outfits. We want to pay homage to those who created rock ‘n roll and blues. We want to give them their kudos. It’s basically paying respect.”
RedCloud and Lightning first met in Los Angeles. He was raised in California of Huichol ancestry and had developed a reputation as a go-to hip-hop DJ. Lightning is from Enoch Cree Nation but moved to Los Angeles as a child and studied acting for five years. Her first major role was in 3 Ninjas Knuckle Up. Back in Canada, she won a Canadian Screen Award for best actress in the role of the CBC series Trickster.
The couple had just finished Dr. Sioux’s The Neech Who Stole Christmas, their pre-pandemic hip-opera, when they were sitting on a sofa watching Grease. It was breezy, light-hearted and fun. Before the movie was finished the two creatives had batted around a few ideas for an Indigenous model.
Grease is a timeless classic that has endured for decades. Filled with charm and nostalgia, it took audiences back to a simpler, more peaceful time. It tackled adolescent issues while enforcing themes of romance, friendship, innocence and loyalty. And the catchy songs kept the tone upbeat.
“But we (Indigenous people) didn’t have the life that Sandy and Danny had. We were dealing with residential schools and other things. We just wanted to show the Indigenous community they could have fun too and be like Danny and Sandy,” Lightning said.
Murray Utas, artistic director of Edmonton Fringe Festival, heard of the project and invited them to showcase it. Knowing the audience would be primarily Caucasian, the duo had a few initial doubts.
“But tickets sold out in 14 minutes. The audience was Caucasian, but they laughed at every single joke. Cloud looked at me and said, ‘We’ve got something here.”
In the past two years, the company has toured across Canada and the United States. This fall, they are preparing for the Ever-Deadly tour featuring 20 shows. The Arden production will be the 112th show, a number suggesting the 75-minute production resonates loudly with audiences.
“It’s not the Grease you expect. But it’s the Grease you need to see. We can do a show in Alberta or New Mexico and the jokes still work. We just switch the language to tailor it to the community. It makes crowds feel part of the show.”
Bear Grease starts at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are $55. Call 780-459-1542 or online at tickets.stalbert.ca.