By Timothy Collins
In 1972, when the Off-Broadway musical Grease debuted in New York, no one realized that it would become a cultural phenomenon. But by the time the film version arrived in 1978, Grease truly was “the word”.
Now the story has a new twist.
Bear Grease is the creation of Crystle Lightning (Indigenous actress and 2021 Canadian Screen Award Winner for Best Actress, Trickster, and Three Pines) and her husband MC Red Cloud (known for his appearance on Yellowstone). It was intended as a way for them to celebrate their Indigenous identity while making people laugh and sing along.
It’s a novel and fun retelling of the classic musical from a new, Indigenous perspective.
The all-Indigenous cast includes Lightning as Sandy and RedCloud as Danny as well as all the familiar characters from the original version of the show like Rizzo and the Pink Ladies, each given additional Indigenous influences.
But Bear Grease is not just for the Indigenous community.
“We don’t want to just be for Native audiences,” Lightning said. “We want it to be for everybody. We want to share it with everybody. We want people to get our humour.”
Lightning described how, after one show in Las Vegas, an elderly Navajo woman told her how, in the ’50s and ’60s, the period in which Grease is set, Indigenous people faced discrimination that didn’t allow them to sing and dance in public like the characters in the show.
The show manages to bridge that history and create a new expression of Indigenous pride. And it does it with humour.
The music in the show has been kept in ’50s style, but drums and flutes are brought in to demonstrate traditional aspects of the culture. There’s also a touch of hip-hop to help Bear Grease appeal to younger audiences.
Bear Grease comes to Victoria on Sat. Oct. 28 at the Farquhar at UVic. Admission is on a pay-what-you-can basis with a minimum of $5.00 suggested.