It’s quite scary to think that the first UK stage production of Grease was 45 years ago, and that 2018 marks 40 years since John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John first introduced the cinema audience to life at Rydell High, especially when those iconic songs, blasted out by the live band sitting high above the stage of the Hawth Theatre, still sound so fresh and strong.
From the first few beats of the title track, right the way through to the “megamix” finale, the audience just can’t wait for the next million-selling number one hit record to be performed live on stage and, for the most part, they seem very happy with the versions they are hearing.
Tom Parker as Danny and Danielle Hope as Sandy work well together with Parker emulating Travolta’s voice and mannerisms without turning them into a caricature and Hope maybe just a little too prim and proper to successfully pull off the transformation at the end of the show.
With the indisposition of Tom Senior, our T-Birds this evening are Michael Cortez (Kenickie), Ryan Heenan (Doody), Oliver Jacobson (Roger) and Rory Phelan (Sonny) who are all suitably car and girl obsessed and obviously having a great time in their respective roles, which they play with great enthusiasm.
The Pink Ladies are, sadly, a little too reserved in their roles. Lauren Atkins as Marty is not really as “easy” as she could be, Frenchy (Rhiannon Chesterman) is not quite as outgoing as she should be and, although she tries the hardest of the gang, Rosanna Harris slightly misses the mark as food obsessed Jan.
George Olney really works hard in this production as the slimy radio DJ Vince Fontaine, as a near naked locker room dancer in Those Magic Changes and as Teen Angel, where he delivers a wonderfully camp Beauty School Dropout, while wearing a stunningly bejewelled shirt, combined with silver trousers and boots!
Some of the lesser roles worthy of singling out are Ailsa Davidson as Miss Lynch, Natasha Mould as the feisty Cha-Cha DiGregorio, Gabriella Williams as the sugary sweet, and terrifically annoying, Patty Simcox and Callum Evans as the superbly geeky Eugene, who suddenly unleashes some spectacular dance moves in the finale.
Louisa Lytton as Rizzo gives the strongest performance of the evening, effortlessly dominating the stage, although her performance of There Are Worse Things I Could Do falls a little flat as, having told Sandy to sit and listen, she then turns away and plays the song directly to the audience, losing any connection, and empathy, between the two characters.
The powerful effect of having the live seven piece orchestra really helps to deliver the musical numbers with Oliver Jacobson’s Mooning, Rosanna Harris’s Raining on Prom Night and Ryan Heenan’s Those Magic Changes all lesser known songs that, in this production, are massive musical highlights.
There are some moments of pure theatrical magic, particularly during the full cast numbers Summer Nights, Born to Hand Jive and We Go Together but, overall, this production lacks the “wow” factor.
*** Three Stars