Grease Is the Word reality TV winners Danny Bayne and Susan McFadden made their West End debuts last night (8 August 2007, previews from 25 July) playing Danny Zuko and Sandy Dumbrowski in Grease at the Piccadilly Theatre (See Also Today’s WOS TV).

In Grease Is the Word, which aired on ITV for two months from 7 April, Bayne and McFadden triumphed over thousands of other (frequently hopeless) hopefuls and seven other finalist couples to win the starring roles in the classic 1972 Broadway musical, immortalised by the 1979 film version starring John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John as the high school sweethearts.

Last night, competition judges Sinitta, choreographer Brian Friedman and producer David Ian were amongst the first night audience to cheer on Bayne and McFadden. Ian has been producing Grease in the UK since 1993, with regular tours and periodic West End forays, and tomorrow he flies to New York for the opening of the new Broadway production which he cast via American TV’s Grease Is the Word equivalent, You’re the One That I Want.

He attributes the musical’s enduring success to it being “the archetypal boy meets girl, boy loses girl, boy gets girl back story that speaks to everybody”. It’s also appealing because it encompasses “a lot of firsts” and has a “constantly replenishing” audience of people who love the film and want to see the story played out live on stage.

Although ITV has turned its back on the musical theatre contest format after the ratings disappointment of Grease Is the Word (See The Goss, 10 Jul 2007), Ian considers the programme a success. “It’s discovered two great kids (in Danny and Susan), and it’s given me a tremendous box office reaction,” he told Whatsonstage.com last night. What’s more, “it has attracted a new audience to the theatre”.

Market research Ian has undertaken on both Grease and his co-production, with Andrew Lloyd Webber, of The Sound of Music, which found its star Connie Fisher via the BBC’s prototype programme How Do You Solve a Problem Like Maria? last year, shows that the majority of the shows’ audiences had never been to the theatre before. An hour a week of Saturday primetime television that lures such neophytes in has “got to be good for the industry”, he believes.

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For 1st Night Photos, our Whatsonstage.com photographer Dan Wooller was on hand for the Grease curtain call at the Piccadilly Theatre and the post-show party at Floridita along with David Ian, the company, creatives and TV judges Sinitta and Brian Friedman. Amongst the other first night guests were Gillian McKeith, Jeffrey Archer and former Grease Is the Word contestants including Michael Quinn, Anthony Kavanagh, Vicky Hoyles and Joanna Power.

While now most famous from the film, Grease began on stage, premiering on Broadway in 1972. The musical originally ran for six years in the West End, first at the Dominion and then at the Cambridge Theatre, returning to London for a short run back at the Dominion in 2001 and at the Victoria Palace in 2002/3. In between, it has toured the UK extensively.

Grease is directed by David Gilmore and designed by Terry Parson with choreography by Arlene Phillips (recreated by Stori James). The new West End cast also features How Do You Solve a Problem Like Maria?’s Siobhan Dillon (as Patty Simcox), Sean Mulligan (Kenickie), Jayde Westaby (Rizzo), Lee Martin (Doody), Bennett Andrews (Sonny), Laurie Scarth (Jan), Charlie Cameron (Marty), Alana Phillips (Frenchy) and Jason Capewell (Vince / Teen Angel).

- by Terri Paddock