An evening of theatre - BISAD, Abu Dhabi

"Grease" - what comes to mind? John Travolta and his killer dancing? Olivia Newton John as a young actress making the role of Sandy her own? The songs? The late 70s and early 80s? Whatever it is, "Grease" is one of the last great musical treats to emerge in the last 30 odd years. So, when my daughter excitedly announced that she had tickets for a production of  "Grease"at her school, I was naturally thrilled. BISAD, or  The British International School of Abu Dhabi (that's a mouthful, now try saying it backwards) was to be the setting for 3 nights of this fantastic musical. Could they deliver a production that captured the joy and angst of youth, rebellion, young love, fun and the spirit of the original "Grease"?

I am very much a process or journey kind of person, and in the two and  a half years my daughter has been at the school, I have seen the school on a journey of progress. For want of a cliche, the school remains a work in progress. As I was greeted at the door of the hall, I could metaphorically and tangibly see that growth. Two years ago I attended "Bugsy' in the same venue. This time, seats were numbered and we were shown to our seats. Very slick. A harbinger of good things? After being seated my thoughts drifted to the teachers who were back stage running around getting everything perfect. Parents arrive at something like this - see the end result that lasts for 2 hours - but very few can appreciate the countless hours that went into this: the tantrums, the stress, the ebb and flow of staging a production like this.

The show started about 20 minutes later than advertised, but the wait was worth it. The live band, comprising of some teachers and students, hit the right notes. They were lively all night and had people clapping their hands to the music. Also, their use of music during the scene changes meant that the transition from one scene to another seemed to go even quicker than they were. Here it should be noted too that the scene changes were effortless and smooth, largely due to a fabulous crew lead superbly by Mr Stewart. Not a glamorous task, but no one will deny the paramount role played by him and his team.

The cast, a cross section of the school, was wonderful. The Pink Ladies and T Birds were ably played by the enthusiastic young ones and successfully brought the required elements of 'cool' to their roles.
There were other numerous highlights: Two unforgettable cameos by Jamie Elder as Johnny Casino and of course the irrepressible Jaiden Matharu, who was simply a joy as Vince Fontaine. However, I think the audience would be unanimous in applauding the staff who did the 'Beauty School dropout' piece. Forget the technical side of what they did - students love to see their teachers on the stage. It casts them, pun intended, as human beings who laugh, cry, sing and  dance.

While it was a good all-round cast performance with Frank Fonseca's Danny evoking a lovely sense of Mr. Hip and Popular, the stand-out performance was undoubtedly Gabrielle Faure's Sandy. She oozed a natural confidence and her assured eye contact with the audience spoke of someone whose gifts should be nurtured by the school.  Furthermore, she was able to hit those high notes beautifully. Gabrielle showed what musicals are really about: the singing. Her parents must be proud!

I commend the relatively bold choice of "Grease". They managed to retain the romance, innuendo of teenage love but also remain culturally sensitive; a difficult balance indeed. It is a pity that the people who assess schools and pass judgement on them were not there. If they were,  they would have realized that they need to privilege the role of the Arts in a school a lot more - the way BISAD seems to be doing. They need to see the real learning that has taken place as these students sacrificed so much time for a greater cause. I am not sure which subject would have taught them that!

Finally, moments like tonight are about the students, young and old. This is about real education. As we walked out I told my daughter that years from now these kids will not reflect on how light bends or how to add and subtract - they will look back at nights like these and dwell on them and smile.

I read somewhere once that education is what you have left when the facts are forgotten. This would be the legacy of the teachers, especially the director, Heather Fox and Ms Kate Rochell, the musical director. However, if tonight was about the students, it was also about the teachers. It was a night when teachers could proudly tell people why they are teachers - it is summed up best in the words often attributed to Ralph Waldo Emerson, which I paraphrase here:  To know one life breathes easier because you have lived, that is success. Tonight the teachers involved with the students tasted success.

Note: The dullness and lack of colour is due to sensitivity around pictures.