The word is .. there’s a cracking new production of everyone’s favourite singalong musical GREASE at the GRAND THEATRE in Leeds. RICHARD HORSMAN finds himself totally devoted to the summer lovin’ vibe …
The test of any production which revamps a classic musical like Grease, a show in which the audience know the music and the lyrics as well as the cast do, has to be whether what’s happening on stage really adds anything to the expectations of theatregoers who’ve grown up with the music.
The verdict here is a resounding yes. This Grease is a fun, cross-generational crowd pleaser with enough new touches to make it a perfect summer night out. I’d challenge anyone to leave the Grand without a smile on their face.
If you need an introduction to the story that needs no introduction, it’s a tale of teenage romance set in a squeaky-clean fictional fifties that never actually existed.
Leads Sandy and Danny had a holiday fling, but parted as the new high school term was about to begin thinking they’d never meet again. Martha Kirby and Dan Partridge bring the required cuteness to the central roles, and more importantly do their own thing with them without channelling Olivia Newton John and John Travolta. They can both sing, too.
Chance brings our star crossed lovers together in the all-American Rydell High, where they have to work out their relationship all over again amid the stereotyped norms and peer pressure of boy and girl gangs. It’s a timeless world all generations can relate to. Oldies see a rosy-tinted version of the birth of rock and roll, or fondly recall their own dating when the film came out. The kids, meanwhile, know it as a camp karaoke classic with some cracking tunes.
The teenage angst is timeless. Themes of fitting in at a new school, cool kids and dorks, wanting to belong, and the need to have a partner for prom night resonate just as strongly today as they ever did.
Some darker elements of youth culture are also touched on, reflecting the original and somewhat grimier stage show that predated the Hollywood treatment. There are hints of macho and bloody gang rivalry, teen pregnancy and the pressures to smoke and drink. But it’s the glamour that predominates and in the end it’s all so .. nice.
And it’s so white. The lack of any real diversity in the film’s high school character lineup is emphasised in this production by the casting of a sassy black “bad girl” Rizzo (Rhianne-Louise McCaulsky, who relishes her role with a 21st century attitude) and a black Teen Angel (Ore Oduba) on the nights when Peter Andre can’t make it.
Ah yes. Looking at the poster you’d assume Peter Andre was the star of the show, and he certainly received a rapturous and appreciative reception from the press night audience. In fact, the part of Teen Angel is a cameo in the second half when he pops up to advise “Beauty School Dropout” Frenchie to go back to high school and rejoin the gang. It’s a witty and well-known song, which is just as well because Mr Andre’s enunciation (or his microphone) was none too clear for anyone unfamiliar with the lyrics beforehand.
I’d love to see what Ore Oduba does with it, and in fact he’s in the role for most of the remaining Leeds run. The CV’s Anna Cale, of course, had a chat with Ore ahead of the opening.
Darren Bennett links the action as deliciously over-the-top DJ Vince Fontaine, cleverly showcased in a radio studio as part of the set, and there’s strong support from the rest of the gang .. notably Louis Gaunt as Kenickie and Damian Buhagiar as Sonny. Special mention too for Natalie Woods who stands out as a body positive Pink Lady Jan.
Everyone’s there for the big numbers and they don’t disappoint – Greased Lightnin’ is a particular show stopper – and Arlene Phllips’ choreography is everything you’d expect it to be. It’s still early in the run .. once the company have acquired the fluency that will come from repeated performance the dance numbers will be jaw dropping.
Old and new material blends seamlessly, and the inclusion of new songs, notably Danny’s rendition of “How Big I’m Gonna Be” early on, stops the evening being a movie tribute act.
This Grease is alive, and acknowledges the show’s stage origins in the grit of Chicago rather than the glitz of California. And it’s all the better for that.
Grease runs at the Grand Theatre, Leeds, until Saturday 20 July.
Fans of Peter Andre should note he’s scheduled to perform 17-20 July only .. Ore Oduba is playing Teen Angel until 16 July.
Interview with Ore Oduba