Book, Music & Lyrics: Jim Jacobs & Warren Casey
Director: Nikolai Foster
It’s 1959 – and who knows what the sixties will bring. In the States, Rock, Pop and Motown rule the roost with their intense and addictive tracks, while Buddy Holly and Elvis Presley have a lot to answer for with their fashion inspirations. It also happens to be the year in which one of cinema’s most successful musicals takes place, the infamously successful and catchy Grease.
From You’re The One I Want to the Hand Jive, all of your favourites are here as the romances and hurdles of high-school life come flooding back as new girl Sandy discovers her summer fancy Danny Zuko is the hottest commodity at her latest school.
You will tap your feet, you will mumble and sing under your face covering, and yes, yes you will fall for the McDreamy eyes and charisma of Peter Andre. Make sure you head on down to the local joint for a snack and a milkshake – you’ll need the energy. Hitting the shakes is Dan Partridge’s Danny Zuko, a fresh generation of a heartthrob for the masses, with all the cheek and appeal of Travolta’s original role. If anything, Nikolai Foster’s take on the production has additional accessibility, building more character and lessening the existent stereotypes allowing Partridge and the Pink Ladies more to work with.
The original gal pals, Frenchy, Jan and Marty, become the driving force of the show; Marianna Neofitou, Maeve Byrne and Inez Budd exhibit euphoria in their parts, thrilled to return to the stage and cut loose. Byrne’s comedic timing and sincere relationship with Josh Barnett’s Roger turns even the most unassuming of numbers (Mooning) into a mainstay favourite. Vocally, the cast excels, though occasionally more prominent cast members rely too heavily on their vocal talents and allow characterisations to slip, or worse, fade entirely.
The pipes from leading performer Georgia Louise as our Sandra Dee possesses a subdued concerto control and projection, restrained to maintain the more upbeat and peppy tone of the production. But when able, Louise serves as a stringent reminder of the majestic acoustics of the Festival Theatre as her voice echoes across the crowds, for one moment calming and silencing the cheers and applause with an appreciative silence following Sandra Dee.
Arlene Phillip’s choreography is by the books for musical theatre but is precise and energetic enough to engage with the audience and showcase some of the casts more accomplished move sets. Strutting ahead with their own Strictly entries are Inez Budd (Marty) and Alishia-Marie Blake as Cha Cha, Danny’s dance date and the girlfriend of the rival gang leader. It’s a minor part, but the impact is intense. Blake elevates the choreography to a smaller, more accurate level, serving an accomplished performance outside the usual group numbers.
Mercifully the Festival Theatre can hold all the ensembles and teen angst, Colin Richmond’s scenic and costume design is a masterstroke of sickly-sweet bubble-gum neon and diner kitsch. An appropriate mise-en-scène which aids in transforming the cooling nights of Scotland into the heated evenings of the U.S. And though the DJ may be high above the action, the musical marvels are hidden below with the house band led by musical director Dan Glover.
Grease isn’t going to set the world alight or tap into the nuances of your yesteryears and high school memories, but why does it have to? What Foster sets out to achieve succeeds in scores of bombastic brilliance and spirit, updating a few of cornier and popcorn aspects of the dreamscape summer lovin’ film, and infuses a touch more stage grit and gristle.
It’ll leave you with chills, which may indeed multiply as the evening stretches onward, but the authentic greased lighting which generates a seamless and smooth production lies with the musicality of the show, the light-hearted entertainment and the house band’s commitment to precise and systematic fun.
Runs until 2 October 2021 then continues on tour | Image: Sean Ebsworth-Barnes