Cool Rider (Duchess Theatre)
Hannah LeVane stands out, as Cool Rider returns to the West End for one week only
What do you know about Grease 2? Never heard of it? It's perhaps not a surprise – the film, intended as the first in a franchise, flopped on release, and studio executives swiftly abandoned all plans to continue. However, despite this, there remains a strong base of devoted fans who fell in love with its fantastically cheesy plot, brilliantly catchy songs and smoking hot lead actors. The basic story is this: Maxwell Caulfield's English exchange student Michael Carrington ("say hello to Michael Carrington…") turns up for his first day at Rydell High, and falls immediately in love with Pink Lady Stephani Zinone (Michelle Pfeiffer). But she wants a "devil in skintight leather", not a straight-A student, however gorgeous he is. Michael knows what he has to do to win her over....
The show, now called Cool Rider, is performed with great vim and vigour by a youthful, pleasingly talented cast. It's a speedy, exuberant and nostalgic run through Grease 2's greatest hits - "Girl For All Seasons", "Reproduction" and "Score Tonight" are all in there, complete with sharp choreography from Matt Krzan. There's thoughtful casting by Jacob Sparrow, too – Lucinda Lawrence is almost the spit of original Rhonda Alison Price, while Joshua Dowen effectively evokes sex-obsessed Lewis. Ashleigh Gray, a former Elphaba, is outstanding as Stephanie, and Aaron Sidwell's Michael is appropriately cute and knowing. The stand-out here, though, is Hannah LeVane's Paulette. Sexy and strong, brilliantly capturing the spirit of Lorna Luft, you could watch LeVane, who previously belted for her life in the Union Theatre's Bare, all night and never get bored.
It's a peculiar experience, turning up to see Cool Rider on stage. It feels Rocky Horror-esque (the addition of a nun to perform stage management duties doesn't help...), and the audience skews much younger than your traditional theatre production. Producer Chris Clegg says he wants people to sing along and enjoy themselves, clearly aware that its core audience will have spent countless hours singing "Cool Rider" into a hairbrush at home. And that's exactly what happens – everyone's up for a good time, and while a large proportion of the audience both sing along and enact armography from their seats, those who don't know the film seem to be having fun.
The atmosphere is electric and there's an excellent mega-mix at the end, but, along with the regular heckling and (admittedly funny) line shouts which occasionally throw the cast off, the second act could do with a bit more work - the story seems to grind to a halt in favour of showcasing the songs, losing the emotional pull Pfeiffer gave this section in the original film.
A lot of fun, but where does it go from here? It'll be interesting to find out. In the meantime, catch it while you can.