Thursday, October 6

Grease – Leeds Grand Theatre

It’s great that this production carries on the classic movie’s proud tradition of having twentysomethings playing teenagers about to leave Rydell High School for the real world.

It’s a bit odd the thick American accents the relatively inexperienced cast deploy seem to be from Brooklyn rather than the tough working-class area of Chicago the original theatre production was set in. The voice coach should have dialled it down a bit which would have helped with the sometimes wayward diction.

It’s probably fair to say most of the audience were looking for a scene by scene recreation of the beloved movie, and to that extent they do get well staged versions of all songs they had grown up loving.  But the producers claim to have retained the darker elements of the rawer early 1970s script, featuring gang workfare and teenage sexual awakening in conservative 1950s American, which they tried to do with varying degrees of success.

This wholesome cast were a bit too squeaky clean to pull off the blue-collar angst and gang warfare of Jim Jacobs and Warren Casey’s 1971 book. The audience is free to bask in the tension between the cool leader of the Burger Palace rocker gang led by Danny Zuko who has an innocent summer romance with Rydell newcomer Sandy. He’s made more of it then he should to his sex obsessed mates to the horror of straightlaced Sandy who joins the pink jacketed T-Birds.

There’s no doubting the energy as the young cast smashed through all the hits aided by some smart choreography by the venerable Arlene Phillips, who cleverly incorporates the stylised moves of the era whilst referencing the movie’s signature dances.

Colin Richmond’s big and flexible set moved from the classic bedroom scene where the knowing working-class Rizzo ribs Sandy to the big hand jive contest in the school gym. This production features some new songs, which rather jar as they are more rockabilly than the pure rock and roll of the movie’s tunes, but Tattoo Song was a welcome addition.

Dan Partridge’s Danny isn’t quite cocky enough for a teen rebel who knows when he leaves Rydell his best days will be behind him but sings well and captures some of the insecurity beneath the quiff and leather jacket.

Laura-Jane Fenny started this tour as the understudy for Sandy, but for the final week is solid in what is actually quite a limited role, and her Hopelessly Devoted to You is moving. Quite why the creatives thought that just sticking her in a pair of black pedal pushers on a lacklustre You’re The One That I Want somehow signalled her throwing off her repression was a mystery.

The big supporting cast all danced and sang well, but Tendai Rinnomhota as Rizzo didn’t quite step out of the long shadow of Stockard Channing. Hannah-Faith Marram also swapped roles offering a nicely annoying goody two shoes Patty Simcox, Josh Barnett was a charming Roger, Marianna Neofitou suitably ditzy as Frenchy and Jacob French was a splendidly louche Vince Fontaine and as Tean Angel crooned his through a campy over the top Beauty School Dropout as the whole cast swirled around as angels. Paul French’s earthy Kenickie was a very promising professional debut.

This is a production that is nowhere near as gritty as it purports to be, but the audience didn’t care as the big numbers were well crafted and brought together in a lively megamix at the end that sent everyone home happy. In these troubled times maybe wallowing in something so familiar is no bad thing.

Grease is at Leeds Grand until Saturday 4th December. To book 0113 2430808 or visit https://leedsheritagetheatres.com/whats-on/grease/

Reviewer: Paul Clarke

Reviewed: 30th November 2021

North West End UK Rating: ★★★

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