Saturday, May 25

Grease the Musical – Manchester Opera House

If, like me, you’re a lifelong fan of the 1978 titular film Grease, then the touring production of Grease the Musical is not to be missed.

Like its namesake, this production is as slick as you like. It has got everything a good show should have: a toe-tapping soundtrack, mesmerising choreography, and – quite literally – an all-singing, all-dancing cast.

The performance I had the pleasure of attending starred Dan Partridge as the leading man Danny Zuko, and understudy Ellie Kingdon as his leading lady, Sandy. I was a bit apprehensive to see an understudy in such a prominent role – especially one who is making their professional debut in this show – but I needn’t have worried: Kingdon was incredible.

Far from being “oh so scared and unsure” like her wallflower character Sandy, Kingdon channelled her inner confidence from the get-go, and acted, danced and particularly sang her more experienced counterparts out of the water. Although I knew it after the closing bars of “Summer Lovin’” rang around the theatre, her explosively powerful yet tenderly sweet rendition of “Hopelessly Devoted To You” in the second act firmly cemented Ellie Kingdon as a standout for me in this performance, and a definite one to watch as she begins what is sure to be an illustrious career in the theatrical arts.

On the other side of the coin, the other standout for me has to be the celebrity guest-star: the one and only Peter Andre in the dual role of Vince Fontaine and Teen Angel. This was a masterful casting choice: Andre had the gyrating hips and smooth swagger for Fontaine, and the calming melodious voice well-suited for Teen Angel (not to mention the ability to pull off little fairy wings with a nonchalant confidence!). His song “Hand Jive” as the lecherous Fontaine was magnificent, as the whole room felt the energy and fun radiating from both Andre and his fellow cast-members. His decades of experience in the entertainment industry were easy to see, and you could tell that his performance was the highlight for most of the audience.

The show has all the things you remember from the film: the catchy songs, the likeable characters – although the stage show does have some quite considerable variations from the film we all know and love (or should I say, the film changed a few elements from the original 1971 stage show).

This performance remained true to the original ‘71 show, which included reverting back to the original name of the T-Birds, once again called The Burger Palace Boys, and reintroducing original songs, including an achingly romantic ballad for the Pink Ladies (“Freddie My Love”), a solo for Danny Zuko (“How Big I’m Gonna Be”), and a surprisingly sweet and poignant ensemble piece led by Doody (“Those Magic Changes”).

These additions were a welcome inclusion to the show, as it ensured the audience had the dose of nostalgia and familiarity they have come to expect from Grease, yet the show was still dynamic and delivered moments that were both unexpected and well-received.

When you look behind the curtain at the creatives involves backstage for this production, it’s easy to see why this show is a screaming success. Resident director Nikolai Foster leads the way as director, whose theatrical credits are varied and vast and, coupled with the incredible expertise of Dame Arlene Philips taking the lead on the choreography front, it’s no wonder every member of the cast were step perfect.

If I had one negative comment to make, it would be that such a high-octane performance with so many high-energy dance sequences deserve to be enjoyed on a bigger stage. I felt like such a big cast with 24 named characters should have been allowed a bigger presence on a larger stage – this, for me, would have given the characters each a little more freedom to use the space a bit more than what was afforded them currently.

However, if my only criticism that this larger than-live cast needs a bigger stage to showcase their talent to the fullest, then that should tell you everything you need to know about this performance.

It was electrifying, and definitely left me with chills that multiplied even after leaving the theatre.

Grease the Musical is currently showing at the Manchester Opera House until Saturday 23rd October. You can buy your tickets here:

Reviewer: Hannah Wilde

Reviewed: 12th October 2021

North West End UK Rating: ★★★★