Grease The Musical is at The Festival Theatre Edinburgh this week (Mon 27 Sept – Sat 02 Oct) and it is hard to believe that this show is now 50 years old (the original stage production was in 1971). Many of us (myself included) would, however, have been introduced to the story and characters of Grease via the now iconic 1978 film starring Olivia Newton John and John Travolta.
Grease the Musical and Grease the film have always been two different takes on the same story, and anyone that is familiar only with the film should be aware that the theatrical stage show has always been a very different production. The film version of the story did its best to turn this story into a far more sugar-coated one than the original, but it never managed it completely, and you only have to listen to the lyrics of the original show songs in the film (some new ones were written for the film) to realise that there is a real “urban” story here with explicit content and a real bite to it.
Since the film version, audiences have quite rightly expected to hear their favourite songs in the stage show too, so the two versions have merged together over the years, and the result has been a little bit of theatrical magic that has thrilled generations of fans of the show. You have to ask then, was a re-working of the show needed from director Nikolai Foster (the first major one in 25 years)? The answer to that depends as always on the eye of the beholder, and I had reservations myself about what someone was going to do with one of my favourite musicals. I am still not sure that every change here was necessary; we have some new songs here, but they fit in well to the story. More importantly though, this version of the story has gone back to the core material of the original story line whilst still being smart enough to retain some of the film songs too. There is a darker edge here to any other version of Grease the Musical that I have seen over the years.
This is a young cast for this show, and that is the way that it should be, but any cast for this show always will have the unenviable job of many people comparing their roles to the massively popular film, and that is always a bit unfair. This is a story of being young and it needs that energy that a young cast can bring to it. Grease is also important in musical theatre in general because it provided a vehicle for young and upcoming talent to learn their stage craft, and there are always too few opportunities for them to do this.
The two headline stars for this tour are Georgia Louise (Sandy) and Dan Partridge (Danny). For tonight’s performance however, the role of Sandy was played by Ellie Kingdon who gave a very solid performance here, and worked well with her co-star Dan. The “known name” in this show was of course Peter Andre who was obviously having a lot of fun on-stage camping up his dual roles as Teen Angel and disc jockey Vince Fontaine. This story is of course a musical and the choreography has all of the sharpness that you would expect from an Arlene Phillips production.
Musically, this show was hitting all the right notes. Dan Partridge is reprising his role of Danny here and is obviously comfortable with his songs and Ellie Kingdon got an enthusiastic response from the audience for her take on Hopelessly Devoted To You. This song was obviously intended to be delivered in a “power ballad” style for this show, but it is always to me a fragile song of a teenage heart breaking in two. Always nice to see the Greased Lightning song rightfully returned to Kenickie (Paul French) as it was “stolen” in the film by Danny (Travolta). Stealing the show a little for me though was the performance by Tendai Rinomhota as Rizzo on one of my favourite songs from this show, the very dark, but honest, There Are Worst Things I could Do.
Grease the Musical is still, despite the darker tones underneath, it a fun show, but it is never the children’s show that some people imagine it to be and it has very adult themes (as always). The show was, however, a welcome return to seeing live musical theatre back on stage at The Festival Theatre and the perfect tonic for everyone in the audience tonight after all of the problems of the past 18 months or so. It was good to see an audience just having fun, perhaps forgetting any problems they had for an evening, and leaving the theatre with smiles on their faces. A job well done, Grease.
Review by Tom King (c) 2021
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