It is, perhaps, the public’s favourite movie musical, and was the highest grossing musical film in history when released. But the stage version of Jim Jacobs and Warren Casey’s Grease The Musical, which premiered seven years before the film, was less of a bubblegum view of Fifties America and came with grittier undertones based on the real-life upbringing of its authors.
This new and updated version, directed by Nikolai Foster, at the Dominion Theatre seems to find a middle ground, transitioning from the mean streets to the hyped-up pep rallies and cheerleaders of Rydell High. Hot on the heels of Dirty Dancing (another perennial favourite) the vast stage of the Dominion makes the perfect home for our beloved characters, and it times it feels like an arena gig rather than a stage show.
The great thing about Grease is that while we remember the love story that develops between Danny Zuko and Sandra Dee, there’s a wonderful richness to the other principal characters who all get an opportunity to shine. ‘Mooning’, a number in the first act, showcases the extraordinary talents of Noah Harrison and Mary Moore, making their professional and West End debuts respectively, and you realise this musical has a company full of stars.
A big draw for audiences may be the casting of Peter Andre as Vince Fontaine, and Andre doesn’t disappoint, with a hilarious routine that delights the whole house. Eloise Davies (who was recently seen in Be More Chill) revels in the role of Frenchie and succeeds in puting the emotion back into ‘Beauty School Drop Out’.
While Grease The Musical features a few songs not heard in the movie, all of our favourites are there to be enjoyed, and from ‘Summer Nights’ through to ‘You’re The One That I Want’ the excitement in the audience is palpable. The film version does do a slightly better job of pulling the narrative together, while the stage version feels a bit too loose in places plot wise.
But no-one in the audience will be too concerned by that, especially when those big ensemble dance numbers, choreographed by Arlene Phillips, take to the stage. It’s hard to know where to look with so many joyful dance routines happening at once, particularly in ‘Hand Jive’. Add in Ben Cracknell’s ambitious lighting design and you’ll find yourself hopelessly devoted to the design of this musical.
Dan Partridge leads the cast as Danny Zuko, a brooding and energetic performance that creates a Danny that is very different to, but certainly honours, John Travolta. By exploring the more nuanced side of the character, Partridge helps the audience shake off the temptation to compare this cast with the one they are most familiar with.
Similarly, Olivia Moore is a Sandy with guts. Some of the misogynistic language used, which reflects 1950’s America, is tempered by Moore’s portrayal of Sandy as a strong woman that’s not afraid to stand up for herself. The same can be said for all the principal female characters, especially Jocasta Almgill’s Rizzo.
Grease The Musical is a safe bet for audiences looking for a truly feel-good show in the summer nights ahead. There’s a certain comfort in going in knowing, and having memories associated to, most of the songs; and as the audience enjoy the finale megamix there is no doubting that when it comes to beloved musicals, this is the one that they want.