It’s been almost 30 years since the last stage version of Grease hit the West End. This previous bubble-gum-sweet production was a hit with audiences and spawned multiple tours, revivals, cruise ship productions and even a reality TV show. Now, grittier and more electrifying than ever before, Nikolai Foster’s new production of Grease The Musical finally comes to London! So join Danny, Sandy, Rizzo and the gang as they do the Hand Jive and burn out the quarter-mile at the Dominion Theater for a strictly limited season.
Whether you’re a fan of the original 1971 production, the 1978 film, or previous revivals, this new production has something for everyone. Beginning life at Leicester Curve, this Grease pulls back the camp and neon from the 1993 production and replaces it with gritty believable characters, a carefully reinvigorated script, three songs added back from the original Chicago production, and a real sense of misplaced anger among the teenage characters. But don’t worry, for all you fans of the John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John-led film, all the songs you’d expect from Sandy and Hopelessly Devoted to You’re The One That I Want- all remain.
Watching Grease, it’s often easy to forget the characters are all in high school. This production does wonders in casting age appropriate actors in every role. Dan Partridge’s Danny has a wonderful mix of cocky bravado, while also bearing his soul in numbers like the re-inserted How Big I’m Gonna Be and showing glimpses of childhood awkwardness in scenes. Olivia Moore’s Sandy is a self-assured young woman slowly coming to terms with her sexual expression who (in the words of Sonny) doesn’t “take no crap from nobody”. Noah Harrison was adorable as Roger, the perfect partner for an off-beat Jan played by Mary Moore and Paul French’s Kenickie was always on, oozing sexual energy. Speaking of sexual energy, fan-favorite Peter Andre as Vince Fontaine gave the show its camp factor and he looked like he was having a ball! Eloise Davies was a lot of fun as Frenchie and Jessica Croll and Darnell Mathew-James were wonderfully cast as Patty and Eugene (who gets a Pink Ladies jacket at the end of the show. Yay!). Jocasta Almgill was a standout as Rizzo. Really coming into her own in the second act, you couldn’t take your eyes off her as she (almost) breaks down while her friends party listening to Jake Reynold’s Doody sing Those Magic Changes. As someone who’s seen too much of life for her age, Almgill’s Rizzo was absolutely heart-breaking as her self-loathing and hopelessness attack Sandy during There Are Worst Things I Could Do. A grounded and show stopping performance. Brava!
For this production Arlene Phillips has been brought back in to helm the show’s choreography, previously receiving an Olivier nomination for the 1993 production. Shying away from the previous productions “and now we’re going to dance” mentality, her choreography in this Grease is character-driven, energetic, and punchy. Encapsulating the period and working-class people the shows about completely. Colin Richmond’s set sees the show based in Rydell school gym, with climbing ladders and ropes aplenty. This really adds to the grittiness of the production and keeps the characters grounded in reality (even in the fantasy dream sequences of Hopelessly Devoted To You and Beauty School Dropout). His costume design is wonderfully colorful while also grounded in the gritty reality of an inner-city Rydell High School. He really gives each character their own style and identity rather than the full cast in different coloured poodle skirts, sweaters, white t-shirts and leather jackets. Coupled with Ben Cracknell’s lighting design and Douglas O’Connells productions, this Grease becomes a visual feast!
From community theatres to sell-out revivals, given the global popularity of Grease, the musical will always have an audience. Its nostalgia-filled energy and recognizable songs will keep audiences coming back Summer Night after Summer Night. This production does wonders in making the material fresh while also keeping everything we know and love about the show. So dust off your leather jacket, pull on those bobby-socks and join the kids at Rydell High. This is a Grease, you don’t want to miss!
Reviewed by Stuart James