Stuart King

Review: GREASE at the Dominion Theatre

Grease the Musical Set at the fictional Rydell High, GREASE — the perennial first crush, school musical — has previously enjoyed long runs at London theatres in the early 1970s (before the film’s release) and again in the early 1990s. This year the show celebrates 50 years since it first appeared on Broadway and to mark the milestone, a new production directed by Nikolai Foster and choreographed by West End stalwart Arlene Phillips, has just opened at the Dominion Theatre.

The burning question is, does the world need another opportunity to relive Danny and Sandy’s summer stage romance when London’s 90s version was so definitively superb and the 70s movie is as fresh today as it ever was? The answer appears to be: No, but slap a nostalgia sticker on its rump and milk the cash cow anyway. After all, everyone knows the songs and familiarity in this context, rarely breeds contempt.

Certainly there are bursts of talent on show, but the leads on whom so much rests, lack confidence in the acting department and consequently spend much of the evening parading unrealistic, 50s-period angst until becomes tedious. Dan Partridge and Paul French (as Danny Zuko and Kenicke respectively) in particular overdo the Elvis/James Dean cock-sure brooding, merely looking sulky and disaffected for much of the show as a result. They then repeatedly resort to grabbing their crotches — apparently as a misguided substitute for both humour and sex appeal! The pair’s dancing skills are considerably more self-assured than their singing, so the production leans on veteran pop star Peter Andre as Vince Fontaine/Teen Angel to inject some mature suavity. Instead, he misguidedly opts for jittery clowning, presumably overcome by the need to thrust a high octane showstopper into proceedings. Who doesn’t love the sight of a pop star from yesteryear trying his best?

Olivia Moore as Sandy, seems woefully miscast as the bobbysoxer-turned-man-eater and for most of the show pervades the sort of sanctimonious manner which would befit a haughty juvenile air-stewardess, rendering her character largely unsympathetic. Sandy’s finale transition to femme fatale is utterly unconvincing as a result. Shrill over-amplification during Hopelessly Devoted To You also robbed the audience of its major opportunity to feel empathy for the mistreated young woman, but hopefully such technical over-stepping can be ironed-out during the run so that Ms Moore can get the chance she deserves to grow into the role, hone her character, serenade us and earn our sympathy as audience members.

Meanwhile among the supporting characters there are real flashes of experienced stage craft from Jocasta Almgill as Rizzo, Eloise Davies as Frenchy, Corinna Powlesland as Miss Lynch, and the dancers Katie Lee and Jack Harrison Cooper in particular. Ones to watch from this cast: Jake Reynolds as Doody and Noah Harrison as Roger, who both delivered the goods and shone way beyond their experience.

On the technical side, Colin Richmond has provided a set which tries to alleviate the the flat width of the Dominion stage with sections of elevated stairs reminiscent of West Side Story and a jalopy which significantly enlivens Greased Lightning in the first half. Meanwhile Dame Arlene Phillips has dusted-off her signature moves for yet another outing — but who needs innovation when you have the tried and tested goods from a 78 year old doyen of dance?

If your tastes aren’t especially demanding (and you can forgive a bit of youthful inexperience), you’ll have a blast.