What do you do with a show like Grease? It’s so well known – largely for the 1978 film starring John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John although the original 1971 musical still has a substantial following – that it’s hard to imagine anyone doing anything radically different with the staging. Director Nikolai Foster doesn’t attempt to reinvent the wheel, although this Grease does draw heavily from the original, slightly grittier musical – while thankfully retaining many of the crowd-pleasing songs which were introduced for the film version.
It gets many things right – most notably Arlene Phillips’ room-filling choreography which does a good job of holding our attention in the cavernous Dominion Theatre, which often swallows up less ambitious shows. In terms of the casting we were most taken with Olivia Moore – who we caught last year in the West End production of Heathers – as Sandy, who portrays the role with sensitivity and delivers a show-stopping Hopelessly Devoted To You. We were also impressed with Jocasta Almgill – who we also caught recently, at Manchester’s Hope Mill Theatre in their production of Rent; her Rizzo has surprising depth.
We were less taken with the male leads. Peter Andre has absurdly high billing, given the small part of DJ and radio announcer Vince Fontaine – in act one he is limited to making a few cringe shout outs from a DJ booth elevated towards the back of the stage. In the second half he’s given a bit more to do and a couple of songs to sing, which he does sweetly, but he is neither an actor nor a musical theatre singer – many of his punchlines fall flat and his pop croon vocal style doesn’t suit the material terribly well. Dan Partridge as Danny Zuko puts in a reasonable turn but never commands the stage like Moore’s Sandy does.
Grease at the Dominion Theatre is a mixed bag. There’s nothing inherently wrong with it – the songs are solid, the choreography impresses, the night passes pleasantly enough and the expected singalong megamix is good fun; it just never really wowed us. There are a handful of impressive moments and we’re sure Grease fans will have a good time with this nostalgia-tinged spectacle, but we’d say this is more of an enjoyable way to pass an evening as opposed to essential theatre.
GAY TIMES gives Grease – 3/5
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