Grease – Review – Bradford Alhambra
By Andrew Brown
Almost 40 years since the release of the film, Grease hits the stage of the Bradford Alhambra, taking us all back to the 1950s; an era of classic rock and roll, big party skirts, and even bigger hair.
As a fan of the classic 1978 movie starring John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John, my expectations for the stage adaptation were high. I was confident I wouldn’t be let down as I walked into the theatre with some of those memorable songs being played in the foyer (the merchandise staff singing along). As audience members arrived in ‘Pink Lady’ and ‘T-Bird’ jackets, the atmosphere was electric.
The show opened with a introductory rendition of the song ‘Sandy’ sung by both Danny, played by pop star Tom Parker (The Wanted), and Sandy, played by Danielle Hope (the winner of BBC’s Over the Rainbow), that led straight into a full Company rendition of ‘Grease is the Word’ which set the tone for the rest of the show.
The energy and physicality of the performances didn’t falter, and the audience seemed to lap up every moment of it. The choreography from former ‘Strictly’ judge Arlene Phillips kept the energy of the show flowing well, although Tom Parker did seem slightly uncomfortable with some of the more complex moves.
“Has the audience mesmerised”
An air of the true rock and roll spirit was prevalent throughout the show, with some fantastic singing by the cast as a whole. A particular favourite was when Sandy sang ‘Hopelessly Devoted to You’. You could hear why Danielle was the winner of ‘Over the Rainbow’ as she had the audience mesmerised with her feelings of unrequited love, her vocal clarity ringing throughout the theatre.
Unfortunately, neither Tom Parker nor Louisa Lytton (Eastenders, Strictly Come Dancing) were particularly remarkable in their vocal performances, with stage inexperience seemingly showing through. In fact, the much more experienced and committed supporting cast stole the show with the rest of the songs, including Doody, played by Ryan Heenan, singing a pitch perfect version of ‘Those Magic Changes’, the full Company renditions of ‘We Go Together’ and Tom Senior as Kenickie singing ‘Greased Lightnin”.
I thought the casting of Rizzo played by Louisa Lytton, didn’t seem to be the best fit for that particular role. Louisa seems to be a natural smiler, and that didn’t fit too well with the iconic character of Rizzo. At times the requisite moodiness felt a little forced, especially when singing: ‘There Are Worse Things I Could Do’. It lacked the classic Rizzo passion and grit. But given a Blonde wig, Louisa would made an excellent Sandy.
It seems that shoehorning in celebrity names to the cast list, to promote an already well-known show, isn’t always a great idea – except, of course, for bums on seats.
“Chemistry was perfect”
Surprisingly, one of the standout characters in the show was Eugene (who was my least favourite in the 1978 film), played by Callum Evans. Callum’s effortless characterisation never failed to make the audience laugh out loud and his clumsy dancing, including with some impressive acrobatics, and physical comedy was spot on. Special mention also needs to be given to Roger/Rump played by Oliver Jacobson and Jan played by Rosanna Harris whose on-stage comedy chemistry was perfect.
There were a few minor accidents throughout the show, with the odd piece of set inadvertently moving position midway through a scene, and spotlights not focused on the right area, but generally the show seemed well produced. After all, it includes over 140 costume changes, pyrotechnics and a sparkly car.
As far as expectations go, you may be slightly disappointed if (like me) you are expecting to see the film brought to life on stage. The stage show does follow the original film, but with some different characters, different scenes and different songs thrown in. These differences make the show its own, rather than a copycat of the ever-popular film.
If you are a die-hard Grease fan, and think that ‘they can do no wrong’ then this show is definitely worth a watch. Indeed, for most of the singing, toe-tapping audience tonight, Grease most definitely is still ‘The Word’.
images: Paul Coltas