The story is treasured by millions across the world. The songs are the soundtrack to generations of love-stricken teenagers. The secret seems obvious – don’t mess with a winning formula.
After a summer of love by the beach, leather-bound Danny Zuko (Dan Partridge) and new girl in town Sandy Dumbrowski (Ellie Kingdon) meet across the bleachers at high school. Grease: The Musical follows the pair – and their gaggle of friends – on their bumpy path to ‘love’.
From the outset of this touring version of Curve’s production of the late ’50s musical has all the elements of a great production. The story’s charm is in its over-exaggerated caricatures of the high school teens. Trying to make the show darker and more hard-hitting, unfortunately, doesn’t work.
The ‘gritty’ adaptation is over-sexed, landing somewhere between awkward and downright distasteful. Everything from raunchy grinding to full-blown simulated oral sex is on display – which adds literally nothing to the story.
Sets are pretty uninspired, and the best are either terribly lit or saved until it’s too late, as impressive innards of a burger joint only made a brief appearance in the closing minutes.
The makeover of rustbucket car Greased Lightning – a pretty key moment in the 1978 movie and nearly all touring productions before – never graduated beyond a few extra LED lights. Indeed, a rickety door plagued cast through a fair chunk of the evening.
Across the company, accents range from the bizarre to the ridiculous. Combined with the strange sound balance in the venue on press night (Tuesday), it was almost impossible to hear what anyone was actually saying. Not necessarily a complaint.
Ellie Kingdon has clear talent as the alternate Sandy on the tour, but is stifled by the barely two-dimensional character she has to play with. This adaptation’s Danny (Dan Patridge) is hard to like and a clunky plot sees Zuko alone at the drive-in one minute and lumbered up again the next.
Stealing the show – and the hearts of the audience – are the loveable duo Jan (Maeve Byrne) and Roger (Josh Barnett). Their comic timing and larger-than-life ham-acting is perfect for Grease.
Marianna Neofitou gets the assignment as Frenchy – she’s is sickly sweet with a bite.
Peter Andre’s Teen Angel does a great turn in the visually stunning ‘Beauty School Drop Out’. A real highlight of the show, showcasing just how much potential is on stage, Andre is otherwise lost as the shoehorned motormouth DJ Vince Fontaine. Andre doesn’t appear on Saturday performances.
A show like Grease has a near-universal appeal. Sadly, this re-imagining has gutted all the best bits and lost any charm that remained along the way.
Photo credit: Sean Ebsworth Barnes