As my all time favourite musical up to the age of 14, there was certainly a wave of nostalgia in my heart as the band struck the opening chords of ‘Grease is the Word’. Directed by David Gilmore, who has worked on more than a dozen West End productions, this vivacious and energetic version of the ultimate high-school musical is undoubtedly the one that you want! Be aware that the story takes a slightly different course from that of the 1978 movie, with direction and use of the main numbers in different scenes. So if you are ‘hopelessly devoted’ to Travolta and Newton-John, then this might not be for you. However, if you’re able to put aside your emotional connections to the much loved on-screen adaption, then you are in for one hell of a ride.
Vocally the performers were sublime. Chorus numbers were a rip-roaring success with the audience, who clapped and sang along merrily throughout the performance. There were a few off notes here and there, but these errors were minimal and disguised well with a swift change of octave or other professional tactics. Soloists that stood out included ITV’s co-Grease is the word finalists, Kate Somerset How as Betty Rizzo and Danny Bayne, who went on to win the competition, as Danny Zuko.
Bayne must also be commended for his humourous representation of Danny. Using refined comic delivery he transformed the character’s trade-like laugh and swagger to the stage wonderfully. It must also be pointed out that whilst Bayne provided most of the humour on stage, he was given the most scope in which to do so, and when the other performers were given the limelight they frequently matched his comic panache.
A clever use of lights formed a ‘Grease is the Word’ hanging logo, which had the audience bedazzled. Startling and fantastic pyrotechnics gave scenes, such as Kenickie’s rendition of ‘Greased Lightnin’, that explosive twist. The audience jumped as the car backfired and flames came billowing out, transforming the show into a spectacle.
Sometimes it was slightly difficult to hear the performers lines, especially during solo aspects of chorus numbers. However, whether this was a question of technical sound issues or bad diction was hard to differentiate. Nevertheless, the cast put on acceptable American accents and lack of clarity was not a problem throughout the entire play, the majority of lines delivered with ease.
Internationally renowned costume designer, Andreane Neofitou did a spectacular job of making each character instantly recognisable. The costumes ranged from Frenchy’s pink wig and clown-like attire to Cha Cha’s irresistible Latin dress and Sandy’s iconic black cat suit. The choreography was equally well crafted, if at times a bit samey. Showbiz legend and Strictly Come Dancing judge, Arlene Phillips showed off her inventive hand-jive back-catalogue entwined with spectacular ballroom moves to create animated dances that the whole audience could enjoy.
Again, devotees to the film might experience a sense of loss during more famous dance sequences such as ‘You’re the One That I Want’. However, the tongue twisting number, ‘We Go Together’ more than makes up for this with its fast-paced and frivolous routine.
Individual scenes were separated by radio announcements from smooth operator, Vince Fontaine (Stuart Reid), creating near seamless transitions between sets. Odd direction during ‘Those Magic Changes’, sung charmingly by Doody (Richard Vincent), saw three half-naked male dancers, stepping out of their showers and dancing in bath towels. This scene left me somewhat confused but it was undeniably entertaining.
This exquisitely authentic 50s musical boasts fabulous costume, reams of energy, a highly amusing script and of course a plethora of classic tunes. The multi-talented chorus gave their all, closing the show with a fantastic medley of Grease classics and leaving every audience member with a grin from ear to ear.
- Hannah Sweetnam