Grease is a classic ‘boy-meets-girl’ story, set in Rydell High School in the late fifties. Its charm lies in its feel-good optimism, bright, retro choreography and exciting toe-tapping tunes that everyone knows and loves.
The iconic film, starring John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John, is a hard act to follow, but the vibrant, live ‘wow factor’ of this fabulous production from director David Gilmore, gives it a whole new dimension.
The set design (Terry Parsons) and lighting (Mark Henderson) are both excellent, enhancing the action brilliantly throughout.
The seven-piece band, led by musical director Griff Johnson, suitably attired in matching fifties style jackets, performs on a raised platform at the back of the set. Far more than a backing band, they are part of the action and bring energy and vitality to the superb score, opening the show with an instrumental overture, which has the audience revved up for what is to follow.
Unfortunately, what is to follow is a rather flat duet of Sandy, from Danny and Sandy, singing from balconies on opposite sides of the stage. A bit of a downer, but quickly followed by a whole-cast explosion of Grease is the Word, with superb choreography (Arlene Phillips), beautiful costumes (Andreane Neofitou) and clear, bright vocals and high energy from this talented cast.
Every one of the big production numbers in the show is executed perfectly, from Summer Nights and Greased Lightnin’ (complete with an eye-popping car swap and pyrotechnics!) through to We Go Together and You’re the One that I want. In this production, I feel the ensemble are the real stars of the show.
There are some terrific cameo performances amongst the T-birds and Pink Ladies, notably Doody (Ryan Heenan), Roger (Oliver Jacobson), Jan (Rosanna Harris) and Sonny (Michael Cortez) – more of him later. Callum Evans as Eugene the nerd is a joy to watch, never letting up on trying to fit in with the crowd.
Danielle Hope is sweet as Sandy; she looks the part, and sings well. Louisa Lytton is a strong, convincing Rizzo, but her solos are a little lacklustre. George Olney, playing Teen Angel and Vince Fontaine, is very engaging and brings a nice level of humour to both parts.
Sadly, I feel that this fabulous show is rather let down by the casting of Tom Parker (The Wanted – though in this particular incarnation, not so much, I’m afraid) in the role of Danny Zuko. Following in those sleek footsteps of John Travolta, surely Danny should have the looks, the moves, the voice, and the swagger to go with it. Unfortunately Tom lacks all of these, except perhaps some quite misplaced swagger. The audience doesn’t seem to take to him at all – a telling moment comes towards the end of the finale when Danny runs a comb through his hair and tosses it out into the audience. You would have expected to see maybe a dozen pairs of hands raised trying to catch it – in fact about four hands go up, probably trying to bat it away. Sad, really.
The part of Danny is understudied by Michael Cortez, who plays Sonny, and who has all the above mentioned qualities. I would love the opportunity to see the show again with him in the role.
The miscasting of Danny does not detract too much from the overall brilliance of the production. The vibrancy and air of excitement on stage really draws you in – when the lights go up at the end of Act 1, it feels quite a shock to be back in the real world.
The fun and frolics continue throughout Act 2, and never let up right through to the high-octane finale, with the audience clapping along, but sadly not on their feet, which they really should have been.
All in all, if you’d like a great night out, Grease really is the word. Catch the show at The Alhambra Theatre, Bradford, until 14th October.