Book, Music & Lyrics: Jim Jacobs & Warren Casey
Director: Nikolai Foster
Curve’s Artistic Director Nikolai Foster, who served as Associate Director at the then West Yorkshire Playhouse, has stripped this musical (often thought of as candy floss for the inane) back to its gritty roots. This goes back to 1971 with a version that was much less fluffy and light than the subsequent 1979 film, though still bringing us a portion of cheesy and slightly corny drama.
Foster’s creation is a work very much in its own right and not at all derivative to the record-busting film, preferring to tell the lively narrative on its own terms. Of course we are bound to compare the performances of Danny and Sandy, played so memorably by John Travolta and Olivia Newton John on screen, with the stage antics of Dan Partridge and Ellie Kingdon. Both roles are played with verve and veracity and a real chemistry swims around the two would-be lovers.
The show very much benefits from the sensational and spectacular choreography of Arlene Phillips, known to many in her Strictly Come Dancing judge role. Great use is made of the space and the ensemble’s interaction is dependent on her every whim. The movement makes the most of the eye candy for both genders and is both exhilarating and wildly exciting too.
The 1950s rock ‘n’ roll era is brought to life magically in Colin Richmond’s authentic and incredibly flexible designs. Of course leather abounds in the male costumes of the Burger Palace Boys while the revealing dresses for the Pink Ladies adds a sense of cheeky sexuality and sumptuous style.
Then of course there are Jacobs and Casey’s powerhouse tunes – all killer no filler. From act one’s Grease Is The Word, Summer Nights and Greased Lightnin’ to Act Two’s Hopelessly Devoted To You, Sandy and the show-stopping You’re The One That I Want, MD Dan Glover brings the songs vividly alive and we find them not at all passé or clichéd.
So we are left with earworms galore as the catchy and infectious melodies stick with us on the way home. Foster’s direction allows for an insightful and incisive examination of the show’s era and manages to blend some deep and profound moments with the more throwaway aspects that are endearing too. Overall the performance is a bit of a tease: it never quite hits the heights we might have expected but manages to capture us completely with its charm and stage magic.
Runs until 4th December 2021