The 1972 Broadway musical was immortalised by the 1978 film version, in which John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John played the high school sweethearts. The musical originally ran for six years in the West End, first at the Dominion and then at the Cambridge, 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, produced since 1993 by David Ian (a judge on Grease Is the Word) and Paul Nicholas, both of whom are also producing the upcoming Broadway production of Grease (opening 19 August), again featuring leads cast by public vote via reality TV.
The London production of Grease - which has book, music and lyrics by Jim Jacobs and Warren Casey - is directed by David Gilmore and choreographed by Arlene Phillips. The new West End 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).
Unfortunately, while the critical response was positive for How Do You Solve a Problem Like Maria?’s Connie Fisher last year and Lee Mead last month, it was third time unlucky in the reality TV stakes for Danny Bayne and Susan McFadden. While some credited Bayne for his energetic dancing and McFadden for her requisite Sandy wholesomeness, first night critics deemed that neither had sufficient charisma to “hold the stage” for an evening. They weren’t helped by a “too old” supporting cast, “uninspired” choreography and a generally “lacklustre” production. Several reviewers used the disappointment of Grease as an opportunity to call for an end of reality TV casting, despite the fact that How Do You Solve a Problem Like Maria? second runner-up Siobhan Dillon did win some warm notices for her “endearing” turn as cheerleader Patty.
Nicholas de Jongh in the Evening Standard (two stars) – “How under-sexed, how under-done and under par I found director David Gilmore's attempt to put the brilliantine back into Grease … Neither of the leads, a less than dynamic Danny Bayne as gang-leader Danny Zuko and Susan McFadden as the girl for whom he falls but cannot pick up, display the singing and acting charisma required to galvanise this almost plotless musical by Jim Jacobs and Warren Casey. Gilmore's production, with neon-lit, basic sets that swing from high school to burger palace, proves no match for his 1993 production on which this is closely modelled … The outstanding cast member Jayde Westaby makes (boy-grabbing Rizzo) first hard-edged and then vulnerable in her finely delivered song, ‘There Are Worse Things I Could Do’ … Arlene Phillips' choreography had such sexy gusto in 1993. Now the dancing tends to be careful rather than dynamic … Bayne … looks a neat dancer but not much of a gang leader. He makes little of Zuko's awkwardness in love, even when revealing his heart in song. McFadden's Sandy reveals a shrill singing voice and her attempts to play prim make her look elderly-confused … Is it not high time producers found real stars for musicals again?”
- by Tom Atkins