In the 32 years since its cinema release, Grease 2, the follow-up to the global mega-smash original, has developed a massive cult following. It made a bona fide Hollywood star out of its leading lady, Michelle Pfeiffer, while its young male lead, Maxwell Caulfield was consigned to Dynasty, then Casualty and then… obscurity.
Well, this is one for the fans, and then some. Director Guy Unsworth and Musical Director Lee Freeman (creating brand new orchestrations from scratch, by listening to the recordings, as the sheet music was never preserved) have delivered with Cool Rider Live. Performed for one night only at the Lyric in January, demand was so high, that the “sequel to the greatest story ever told” is returning to the London’s Duchess Theatre for one week only, from Tuesday 15th to Saturday 19th April. Matthew Nichols spoke to the show’s leading man, actor Aaron Sidwell.
Tell us about Cool Rider Live – The Cult Musical Sequel.
Well, it’s based on Grease 2. And it’s the same story as the film, with all the songs, but ours is a concert version with lots of surprises. So there’s actually set and props and lots of choreography, but we all sing and do our dialogue into microphones at the front of the stage, so it’s in that concert format.
What is your first memory of watching the original film?
I did the performance at the Lyric, and I only watched the film after that, I’d never seen it before. I wanted to see what everyone had gone crazy about, and see what I was missing out on. I can absolutely see why people liked it so much when they were younger; it’s got that “so bad it’s funny” thing. And in our show, we embrace the silliness and the fun. And, actually, just like the first film, the morals are all wrong too!
You play Rydell High newcomer Michael Carrington. Tell us about him, and a favourite moment in the show for you.
He’s a really driven guy. He meets a girl who he immediately likes and falls for, and he decides that he must get with her, and be with her. He’s compelled. He’s interesting to play because he’s a good guy, with a good heart. And he’s fun to play because with all of the larger than life characters all around him, he’s actually at the centre of it all, drinking it all in. My favourite moment is definitely the bit on the bike with Ashleigh (Gray, playing Head of the Pink Ladies, Stephanie) because it’s really funny and silly. Working with Ashleigh is fantastic.
What’s your favourite song in the show?
It has to be Reproduction, which opens Act Two. One thing that amazed me when I worked on the show at the Lyric was that it has surprisingly good songs. Lee Freeman has done these brilliant arrangements which actually highlight all the quirky writing in the show.
What was the audience reaction like when you performed the show in January?
The reaction was nothing like I have ever seen before! Reece Shearsmith played Mr Stewart in that production, and he had been in The Rocky Horror Show, and he said that the only thing that he could compare it to was that, but twelve times bigger! The audience were loud and energetic, and they stand and sing along, and they speak all the dialogue too. When I perform my ballad Charades, which was a bit dreary before Lee Freeman got hold of it, the audience all shouted “fast forward!” because it’s what they all did when they watched it on video when they were kids.
Are you aware that Grease 2 has a large gay fanbase?
Not really, to be honest, beyond the large gay fanbase that most musical theatre has! I think it’s definitely the kind of show that hen parties come along to, and there are groups of people who have become friends through their love of the film. We even get guys coming dressed as Pink Ladies!
You did a stint in Eastenders. Do you prefer stage or TV work?
I can’t properly pick, because they’re so different, they’re almost entirely different businesses. In television, there’s relatively little face time with those who are your bosses, at the top. I rarely saw my boss, unless I’d done something wrong or was going to be written out. The second assistant director would be your main contact, and it was all less personal, which did mean that you could focus on it just being a job. Whereas in theatre, there is this “bubble” that we all talk about that we’re in. You definitely connect, even on an emotional level, with your Producer and your Director, and I think I prefer the personal touch of stage work, though it is definitely harder work.
You were in the musical Loserville, which developed a real cult following, despite not striking a chord with middle-aged male theatre critics. Did you enjoy it, and could you ever see it making a comeback?
It was the best thing I’ve ever done. I cared about it so much. I think you’re right about the critics, as it wasn’t really aimed or targeted at them. I saw the reviews of I Can’t Sing and the critics seemed to “get” that as a silly, fun show, and I thought that was the same thing. It might be the case where it’s brought back in ten years, and because it’s a revival it will do really well. I know that the show wasn’t perfect, but we do approach theatre criticism in a very heavy way in this country, and focus on the negative at times. My favourite review was from a critic who took her 14 year old niece, and saw the reaction from her and the standing ovation that teenagers gave it, and added an extra star, because of how much fun they were having.
What would be your dream musical theatre rôle?
I think for every guy it’s Jean Valjean (in Les Miserables.) It’s such a good rôle, it’s got everything – except comedy. So, actually, for comedy, I’d love to be in something like The Full Monty.
What was the last great show you saw?
Once, The Musical. It was the best think I’ve seen in years in terms of musical theatre. There was no flaw in it, the music was just phenomenal, and the book was amazing too.
What would your own one sentence review of Cool Rider Live be, to make sure people come and see the show?
It’s an exhilarating, sing-a-long, silly, funny musical hit!
Finally, where does the pollen go?
Ha! Who knows? You’d have to ask Mr Stewart.
Photo:Pamela Raith Photography