‘Grease’ is one of those shows that everyone knows, even people who don’t like musicals. Who among us hasn’t performed one half of the legendary megamix (badly) at a wedding or Christmas party? Steeped in kitsch 1950s nostalgia, the original “high school musical” premiered on stage in 1971 before being immortalised on film with the world’s tightest trousers in 1978, cementing the careers of John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John. Now, 15 years after it was last seen in London, the show is back in town. Reimagined by Nikolai Foster (Curve’s resident Artistic Director), and featuring choreography by Arlene Phillips, ‘Grease’ has moved into the Dominion Theatre for a summer run on the back of a successful UK tour. But with such a well-known and often-visited show, audiences may ask… Is ‘Grease’ still the word?
The answer is, mostly, a resounding “yes”. With its iconic score by Jim Jacobs and Warren Casey that everyone knows the words to, ‘Grease’ remains a really enjoyable night out, and Foster’s production has a lot going for it. The show soars during the most well-known songs (“Summer Nights”, “Greased Lightning”, “You’re The One That I Want”…), and also uses less famous songs to flesh out the peripheral characters and give them their own stories. These are mostly successful, although a couple do slow the pace (“Freddy My Love”, for example) and make the book feel a bit “flabby”.
The set doesn’t quite fill the immense Dominion stage but is attractive to look at and mostly used well (aside from some strange choices to have characters to walk up one set up steps, only to walk straight down another set). The DJ booth for Vince Fontaine makes a great central backdrop, and the car set-pieces are impressively moved around the stage. Lighting design is cleverly done, bright enough to make the colours pop but also often stark enough to remind the audience of the show’s darker elements.
Foster has assembled a talented and diverse cast to tell his story. Olivia Moore makes for a charming and likeable Sandy; it’s a shame that she feels almost forgotten until halfway through Act 2, but Moore makes sure that you remember her with a stunning rendition of “Hopelessly Devoted To You”. She sounds flawless, belting like her life depends on it, and creates a real standout moment. She appears more slightly comfortable as the “Sweet Sandy” rather than the finale’s sultrier counterpart, but she does well throughout. Jocasta Almgill is also brilliant as the feisty Rizzo, giving sassy snark throughout and turns “There Are Worse Things I Could Do” into a surprisingly emotional highlight. Peter Andre performs the dual role of local DJ Vince Fontaine and Teen Angel, and although his contributions are arguably minimal for the first act, he does well after the interval. He brings great energy to the Hand Jive sequence, and also delivers on the vocal front for the “Beauty School Dropout” number. Never taking himself seriously for a second, he looks like he’s having a great time up there and is fun to watch. The other featured performers all do well, each creating memorable characters that remind us this isn’t just Danny & Sandy’s story and having their own moments to shine. The ensemble perform Phillips’ moves with precision and style, keeping their energy levels mostly high during the dance sequences, although this isn’t always consistent (“You’re The One That I Want” in particular seems to take a while to get going and requires some tightening).
Dan Partridge is somewhat less successful and doesn’t always convince as Danny. Although the vocals and dance skills are there in abundance, Partridge’s acting doesn’t feel a natural fit for the character, often coming across as more “arrogantly awkward” than the effortless cool needed for Zuko. He is often out-acted by the other male leads and doesn’t quite pull off a true “leading man” performance for this iconic role. But his energy levels are great throughout, and the vocals are strong, particularly in his “Sandy” solo where he shines.
It may be over half a century old, but this new production proves that ‘Grease’ still has groove and it still has meaning. Bright and vibrant while retaining the show’s often-forgotten grittiness, the show is a fun jolt of nostalgia certain to liven up your “Summer Nights” over the next few months.
‘Grease’ runs at the Dominion Theatre until 29th October 2022. Performance runtime approximately 2 hours 30 minutes including interval. https://www.greasemusical.co.uk/
Reviewer: Rob Bartley
Reviewed: 17th May 2022
North West End UK Rating: ★★★★