May 29, 2017
It seems remarkable now, but Grease started life as a non-professional production scheduled for just four performances in a Chicago theatre that seated only 120. It was such a hit that the run was extended and it wasn’t long before it reached Broadway and the West End, and that’s before the iconic film starring Olivia Newton-John and John Travolta.
It’s easy to see why it’s so loved. The whole thing is a pastiche, of course, full of caricatures, although, in its own way, it does cast a light on attitudes of the working-class of small town America of the time. But it’s also a great, feel-good show with fabulous, infectious songs and some wonderful characters, even if the story (not that there’s much of one) has now become secondary to the music and dance.
For most in the audience, I suspect, Grease means that film, Travolta and Newton-John, but it speaks volumes to say that it wasn’t until Danielle Hope as Sandy appeared in those raunchy black tight-fitting trousers for the final scene that my mind ventured there. Hope gives a stellar performance; totally believable as the initially meek and naïve new girl at school. And she can sing. Her rendition of ‘Hopelessly Devoted to You’ is magic.
Less magical is the relationship between her and Danny, played by Tom Parker, former member of boyband, The Wanted. His portrayal of the greaser is far from the laid back, easy going, charming, cool guy we have come to expect. Surprisingly, while he does well in the group numbers, he also struggles with some of the solos, the higher reaches of ‘Sandy’ in particular. His voice just doesn’t seem to have the same range as some of the other T-Bird men, particularly noticeable when you hear them in their own solo moments.
Another household name, Louisa Lytton (best known for her time with EastEnders and The Bill, although she has done other live theatre) never quite gets to the heart of the dark character that is the straight-talking, outwardly sassy but inwardly very vulnerable Rizzo. She struggled to connect with the audience (well, with me at least) and her two big numbers, ‘Look at Me, I’m Sandra Dee’ and ‘There Are Worse Things I Could Do’ were both difficult.
For an object lesson in how to play an audience, though, look no further than Jimmy Osmond’s Teen Angel. With his broad smile and a glint in his eye, he stole the stage every time he appeared and his ‘Beauty School Dropout’ is one of the highlights of the show.
Elsewhere, I was particularly taken by Rosanna Harris as Jan, slightly goofy but utterly good-natured and totally honest, and Oliver Jacobson’s comedy turn as the geeky Rodger. Both were played to perfection. Tom Senior makes for a great Kenickie, all raw masculinity, and a great singing voice to match. I could have done without some of the ladies’ overdone attempts at American accents, though.
Arlene Phillips’ musical staging and choreography is terrific. The high energy numbers, especially those for or that involve the men are especially good. contrast nicely with quieter, more thoughtful ones. Best of all is ‘Greased Lightning’, taken full throttle, foot hard to the floor, which comes complete with a very clever transformation of the car.
Also terrific are the band, led by Griff Johnson. How sad, though, that they should be hidden for most of the show. Given that they are positioned at the back of the stage, high above the action, surely a way could have been found to let us see more of them.
For a bright, upbeat, fun-filled, foot-tapping evening, the show certainly fits the bill. Grease is indeed “the word,” as they say. Start practicing that hand jive.