Regional Theatre Review: Grease

Date Posted: 29/08/2017

You’ll leave the auditorium with a spring in your step and a smile on your face, says Laura Sexton who went to review Grease at Milton Keynes Theatre.

Quirky characters, toe tapping tunes and an abundance of fun: Grease is a joy to watch. From the second the band starts playing the overture the whole audience is jamming. The band, situated on a high plinth at the back of the stage, step in with guitar riffs and brass solos throughout the show, flawlessly and effortlessly. 

Grease follows the story of Sandy and Danny, two very different teens who fall in love despite their differences. Think Romeo & Juliet meets high school; throw in some modern teen drama, some smoking, drinking and sex, add some poodle skirts and some leather jackets, and you’ve got yourself a hit show.

Grease hit Broadway in 1972 and the West End in 1973. This version of the show is directed by David Gilmore with book, music and lyrics by Jim Jacobs.

We are introduced to our leads, Sandy played by Danielle Hope and Danny played by Tom Parker, raised up on opposing platforms singing Sandy in slow ballad form, before the cast ensemble break out into a powerful rendition of Grease is the Word. This really opens the show in style and has the whole auditorium in high spirits as the characters dressed in baseball jackets, and cheerleading skirts rock out across the stage, representing the somewhat stereotypical American teens. 

Possibly one of the most iconic songs from the show is Summer Nights which I think most people can admit is a guilty pleasure and it’s hard not to sing along to. I was looking forward to seeing how the cast would pull it off but was apprehensive as to whether it would live up to expectation. However, I felt at ease as soon as the song began and before I knew it, I was transported into Rydell High alongside Danny and Sandy, confessing their summer fling to their friends.

Grease cast

Pictured: Cast of Grease (photo credit: Paul Coltas)

It has to be said that the two strongest vocals of the show belong to Daniella Hope, whose angelic voice at one point during her solo, Hopelessly Devoted, gave me chills and George Olney who plays Teen Angel and Vince Fontaine whose Elvis-esk and corny style is spot on. The rest of the casts’ voices are not ground-breaking, however, this makes the ‘high school teen’ act far more believable and realistic. Although her voice isn’t as strong as Danielle Hope’s, Rizzo, played by Louisa Lytton, sings with a sense of vulnerability and innocence during There Are Worse things I Could Do which makes you see the softer side of the usual tough and mean character.

The T-Birds, Danny’s crew of friends donning leathers and slick-backed hair are more believable as pals than the Pink Ladies but this may be because the individual characters of the Pink Ladies are stronger. That said, there are particular characters who stand apart from the rest: Doody played by Ryan Heenan was charming and brought an adorable awkwardness to the role; Jan played by Rosanna Harris and Roger played by Oliver Jacobson have to take the award for most endearing couple, with goofy laughs and gawky body language.

I was delighted to see that they actually use a realistic car on stage for Grease Lightnin taking us back to the 1978 film starring John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John. This number has pizazz and audience members will not hold back in joining in with the dance moves, as I found out. A warning though, there are some very bright flashing lights at the end of the song, you may need to shut your eyes. Still, it is easily the most memorable and powerful number in the whole show.

If you’re going to see Grease with the expectation that it will be identical to the film, you’ll be in for a surprise, as some of the songs are sang at different times, for example the famous We Go Together is sung at the end of the first act as well as at the end of the show, which although good, I feel somewhat lessens the significance of the much anticipated song. And the iconic car race between Danny and Craterface doesn’t happen in the show, in fact the character Craterface doesn’t even make an appearance and is only briefly referenced. Having said that, the adapted show is refreshing and original.

The chemistry between some of the cast could have been stronger at times, for example the relationship between Danny and Sandy could have been played with a bit more oomph, but there’s no doubt the cast succeed in making your evening very enjoyable. 

Earth shattering, no. Effortlessly fun and charming, definitely yes. If you’re after a few hours of escapist smiling, laughing and some of the catchiest tunes in showbiz, then Grease, is the word.

Grease is currently touring until 31st December. It will visit venues such as Edinburgh Playhouse, Sheffield Lyceum Theatre and Canterbury's Marlowe Theatre.

Lead image: Cast of Grease (photo credit: Paul Coltas)

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