Grease at the Cambridge Theatre
Note: The cast for this production has changed since the writing of this review. If you have seen the current cast and would like to send in your comments for posting on this page, please email us.
There's an entire generation of former teeny-boppers for whom Grease is a film, and a cultural icon of a film at that, which shot its stars John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John into the stratosphere. If you re part of this generation, and I am, it's impossible to see the stage version of Grease without making comparisons to the film. Such comparisons are often unflattering and punctuated by outraged cries of “no, that's not right, it didn't happen like that, Danny never said that!” Logically, I know this is unfair, especially considering the play predated the film by a good seven years. But hey, that's life, there's just no messing with a cultural icon.
Of course, the core plot remains the same. Teenaged sweethearts Danny and Sandy remeet at Rydell High after a summer romance, but Danny jeopardises the relationship because he's afraid to be seen smitten, and consequently ‘uncool , in front of his friends. Can either of them ditch their personas - supercool dude and goody-two-shoes cheerleader - to be with each other? I think you know the answer.
The music is the main differentiator between the two versions - while it's a nice diversion in the film, it's the main attraction in the play. On the negative side, this means that we don't get nearly as much complexity in the play (and it was never hugely complex anyway!) - several events are re-ordered, abridged or omitted (along with any real feeling for the characters). On the positive side, we get a lot more fun, rockabilly music from what is, for my money, one of the best soundtracks of all time. And remember those mysterious tracks on your double-LP album you couldn't find in the film - “Those Magic Changes”, “Mooning”, “Born to Hand Jive” and others? They re all here on the stage in some wonderfully choreographed numbers.
The current cast leaves a bit to be desired. Luke Goss (formerly of Bros fame) might have knife-edge cheekbones and enviable gyrations, but he doesn't seem very comfortable in the role. His acting method involves aping Travolta to an eerie, yet still ineffective, degree - he just hasn't got Johnny Boy's cool or humour. Marissa Dunlop, on the other hand, doesn't try to imitate Newton-John in the least (her Sandy isn't even Australian for heaven's sake!) and while she does have a fantastic voice, her “Hopelessly Devoted to You” is hopelessly devoid of emotion. The two are often upstaged by their supporting cast led wonderfully by Philip Bulcock s Kenickie and the rest of the talented T-Birds.
All in all, if you can manage to quell your preconceptions, this production makes a carefree and enjoyable, if slightly overamplified, evening. After all, Grease still is the word.
Terri Paddock, October 1997