As this musical is based on the iconic film, which always tops the polls of the best musical films ever made, its longevity is fairly well assured. The songs will always carry it along and the audience will always react just as they always have reacted – even if some of the individual performances are a little less than perfect.
One issue with an elongated national tour, as occasionally witnessed in Joseph, is that, whether it is due to boredom, familiarity or even lethargy, a sub-standard performer in the middle of an energetic company sticks out like a sore thumb. Another issue that was certainly true in the film version of Grease is that, through no fault of their own, as they grow a bit older, some people no longer look like high school students.
Danny Bayne is now a married man, heading towards his mid-twenties and, put simply buy harshly, struggles to be a very convincing teenager in the role of Danny Zuko. However, Carina Gillespie, due to her incredibly slight frame, still manages to convince as Sandy and her transformation from “sweet and innocent” to “Lycra-clad bad girl” is still one of the highlights of the production.
The audience reaction, from the moment the show begins, is genuinely enthusiastic – in much the same way as one would greet an old friend – and Musical Director, Barney Ashworth makes the most of the moment to warm up the crowd and entice some audience participation.
Without doubt it is the newest cast members in leading roles and most of the minor characters who keep this show edgy and moving, particularly Kate Somerset How as Rizzo, and Ross William Wild as Kenickie with the seriously annoying Patty and supergeek Eugene, played by Charlotte Gooch and Darren John, adding the comic touch that has always been an integral part of the piece.
For this leg of the national tour the role of Teen Angel is being shared and, here at Eastbourne, it is X-Factor’s Mary Byrne who pops on the silver and white suit to deliver an accomplished and, as expected, powerful version of “Beauty School Dropout”. It is worth noting, however, that references to supermarket chains and TV talent shows were not in the original song and are totally unnecessary now. For people who don’t know who she is the references mean nothing, and, for those of us who do know her, they are just silly gimmicks that detract from the song.
Overall, although not as slick and punchy as usual – possibly brought about by nerves following some technical and sound issues – Grease still does what it always did. It offers wonderfully catchy songs, delivered by an energetic company to an audience that knows what they like – and likes what they know.