Rock-A-Hula-Luau! Cool Rider hits the West End
I want a c-o-o-l-r-i-d-e-r...
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Mere months ago producers James Drury and Christopher Clegg sat in their apartment dreaming about bringing Grease 2 to the stage. At first James was apprehensive about lack of demand for the cult classic. However, it’s safe to say he smashed his West End debut with two sold out performances at London’s Lyric Theatre.
Unable to name the show Grease 2, Cool Rider is the perfect title. As the orchestra plays, the Cool Rider melody a sea of pink lights shines down on the crazy crowd. We meet a brunette Stephanie (Ashleigh Gray) and her gorgeous future love interest Michael (Aaron Sidwell). If you haven’t seen Grease 2 basically Michael is Sandy’s cousin who develops a teenage boy crush on Pink Lady Stephanie. Their code however states that she can only date a T-Bird. Absolute drama. This leads to a sexy superhero style charade where Michael is geek chic by day and a secret biker babe by night.
The Cool Rider set is fairly simple with a handful of chairs portraying a class room and four microphones at the front of the stage. With that said it is believable and transitional scenes flow nicely thanks to the props management of a random nun. It’s almost impossible not to dance to opening number Back to School where the cast deliver an entirely energised performance. Paulette (Hannah Levane) then shows off her vocal talents in Score Tonight and transforms the character from lacking confidence in the film version to a feisty diva on stage. Who knew that bowling could be so sexy?
The script is chopped and changed to fit stage demands and is often joked about. With an obvious lack of teachers, Mr Stuart (Reece Shearsmith) and Miss Mason (Nadine Cox) enjoy a few gags on how they appear to be running the school themselves. Certain scenes that didn’t make the cut such as Michael biking over a police car were able to be referenced and successfully understood by the room of die hard fans. Joking about the changes and even the daftness of the storyline encouraged the audience to heckle and allowed the actors to laugh at themselves.
Ashleigh Gray’s Cool Rider performance got everyone out of their seat and some managed to bring along their air motorcycles too. The song featured again with a mash-up of Who’s That Guy? a stage adaptation which worked tremendously. The score for Grease 2 was not actually written down which meant musical director Lee Freeman listened to the film and wrote the score himself. A fantastic achievement as his 38 piece orchestra played 19 different instruments sending a bolt of Grease lightening through the theatre, creating an electric atmosphere.
During Michael’s Charade solo it gets raunchy at Rydell as he ditches the geeky clothes and unbuttons his shirt, much to the audience’s delight. It’s noticeable the ex-Eastender is trying not to laugh as people shout, “Take your pants off!” To be fair, hormones were already raging after naughty performances of Reproduction and Do It for Our Country thanks to some sexy choreography from Matt Krzan.
Reaching the end of the show, the random nun is back to improvise the scene where Michael returns. The budget clearly didn’t stretch far as a toy motorcycle on a stick is used to fly over the characters. This side-splitting scene generated roars of laughter and even if given a bigger budget should remain untouched.
The encore was a Grease 2 megamix which was so camp the room could have easily exploded into glitter. Because it was so popular they even did it again and would probably have gone for a third time had the audience got their way.
If you didn’t catch Cool Rider this time it was teased the show may return in April. Let’s hope it’s for a much longer run as this inventive production needs to be a permanent fixture in the West End.
GT gives it a 4/5
Words: Benjamin Spence (@BenSuspender)