Grease – Review – Leeds Grand Theatre
By Sandra Callard, June 2019
“Grease is the Word”, and its coming your way in a new beat-pounding extravaganza, as the woes and loves of the students of Rydell High are once more giving patrons young and old the tapping feet and sneaky hand jives of the wonderful rock’n roll era of the Fifties.
The 1978 film of Grease was a long way from the original musical by Jim Jacobs and Warren Casey, which was a raw and hard-hitting piece which centred on the rundown and tough lives of immigrant young people struggling to leave the poverty stricken streets of downtown Chicago. It did, however, hit the nerves of the populace as it took to Broadway and left with an armful of awards and became the foundation for the subsequent highest grossing film musical ever, an accolade that lasted for 30 years, until Mamma Mia! took the crown in 2008.
So here we go again with a new and vamped up blockbuster, which shadows the film but brings the unique personal touch of the stage genre. The two leads, Dan Partridge as Danny Zuko, and Martha Kirby as Sandy Dumbrowski, bring a sharp, clean edge to the show and, although set in the Fifties, also bring a touch of modernity to the famous scenes, as the age-old problems of youth and vulnerability are touchingly shown.
Partridge is no John Travolta, but he can sing better, and his lovely solo of ‘Sandy’ is as good a piece as I’ve heard in a while. Martha Kirby as Sandy never attains the touching innocence that Olivia Newton-John did so well, but she is wholly contemporary in her performance as a feisty girl with principles. I do think she was let down somewhat by the staging of her transformation scene. There was no build-up or surprise as she came wandering on stage in her new black, but slightly dowdy, clothing which added years but not glamour to her part.
The show also has a wonderful interlude in the Second Act when singer Peter Andre appears in a cameo portrayal of Teen Angel, complete with wings, to sing ‘Beauty School Dropout’. Andre is a well-loved personality and was not in the least fazed by the huge wings attached to his back. He pulls it off with a tongue-in cheek panache that erases his minor acting ability and won him a standing ovation from the audience.
Two outstanding performances are from Louis Gaunt as Kenickie, a Travolta look-alike with mannerisms and dancing that mirror the maestro. He is quite spectacular and would make a perfect Danny. And Darren Bennett as Vince Fontaine is hilarious as the over-the-top, conceited and self-loving DJ who takes the adoration of his fans as his birthright. He gives a fantastic performance, and fully deserved the prolific applause at curtain call.
“Gutsy, loud and emphatic”
Grease is a stage musical that has the age-old problem of performing on the back of a phenomenal film, and will always be used as a yardstick of success. But the two are not comparable as each genre has its own personal grandeur. Theatre is personal and instant, for both the cast and the audience, who can indeed ‘see the whites of their eyes’. Their fears, failures and triumphs are played out in the public arena, and the bravery and guts of the performers are to be envied and applauded.
This new production is everything a gutsy, loud and emphatic musical should be. The music is fantastic, and played with great skill and authenticity by the resident orchestra, and the show has the advantage of having the top-class choreographer, Arlene Phillips on hand to create the superb dances. A great show with a terrific on-your-feet finale.
images: Manuel Harlan