Thursday, 27 June 2019

THEATRE REVIEW: Grease - The Grand Theatre, Leeds

Grease burst into the world in 1971 when the musical by Jim Jacobs and Warren Casey. It was then popularised in 1978 by Randal Keiser, when released on the big screen, featuring John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John, which has gone on to be the 4th highest grossing live action musical of all time.

Tonight, in Leeds, the Grand theatre was rocking. It was Hydromatic. Systematic. It was Grease The Musical.

Bursting on to the stage came the entire cast to sing the Frankie Valli hit, “Grease” which was so colourful, full of energy and excitement that it gave me goosebumps. Wow. I sat back into my chair ready to be stunned for the next two hours with exciting choreography, wonderful acting and really great vocals.

We moved in to the first scene, which started so well, but moments later, Disaster, Jan (Natalie Woods) and Marty (Tara Sweeting) summon Rizzo, (Rhianne-Louise McCaulsky) to their lunch table, but no one appears, here flips a switch in my mind, oh no, whats happened, has someone injured themselves back stage? Where is she? The cast on stage start to improv, talking about their lunch, and what their timetable consists of, when from the wings, comes a loud voice saying ‘we need to stop, can you all come off the stage please.’ Well. The plot thickens. The house lights come up and a safety curtain comes down. The entire audience who had just settled in to watch a great show now left in limbo! We were reassured by the house staff, and tannoy system, that there was a technical issue, not to worry, and that we would restart shortly. A few brief minutes passed, the lights dimmed again, and we were back in the Rydell high lunch hall before long. Congratulations to the team for fixing the issue so efficiently. Also, to the cast for handling the situation so professionally.

We’re off again. And it’s really great. Heavy hit after heavy hit. Danny Zuko (Dan Partridge) and Sandy Dumbrowski (Martha Kirby) have wowed the audience with their tales of “Summer Nights,” the Burger Palace Boys, (later known as the T-Birds) have goofed around, the Pink Ladies have ridiculed Sandy, with “Look At Me, I’m Sandra Dee” and were half-way through the act. This show is brilliant. Then, all of a sudden, a full-size hot rod drives onto the stage! All the Burger Palace Boys gather round, and rip Kenickie (Louis Gaunt) a new one, over the state of the joke of a car that he’s bought. With only one way to win the guys over, those famous lines were upon us. Why this car is automatic, It's systematic, It's hydromatic, Why it's greased lightnin'! a 5 minute high powered dance routine, from choreographer Arlene Phillips, accompanies the hit, which concluded with Danny and Kenickie inside Greased Lightnin’ suspended 10 feet in the air in a thrilling flying car moment. The story continues along, with Patty Simcox (Jessica Croll) signing Danny up to the athletic team, Roger, AKA Rump, (Ryan Anderson) ‘moons’ over Jan, winning her heart, and all the other cast members have paired themselves up for the upcoming dance, hosted by Vince Fontaine (Darren Bennett). The first half is nearing its close now, and the cast have a farewell party for Frenchy, (Eloise Davies) we go out with the tongue twisting hit, ‘We Go Together’ DJ Vince Fontaine, who has been acting as a link between scenes informs us not to go anywhere, as we’ll be back in 15.

We return at the high school dance competition, Vince Fontaine is like Elvis in this scene, all the girls swooning, and he can do anything. At moments, breaking the 4th wall, crawling off the vanity stage and mounting members of the audience. The dance scene is littered with individual duo routines, hats off again to Ms Phillips for that feat. Followed by the whole cast Hand-Jive routine, which has the whole cast in excellent unison, and synchronisation. After the dance, the scene changes to outside the school, where some of the lads, armed for a rumble, run into Frenchy, who is down about dropping out of beauty school. The atmosphere in the auditorium suddenly becomes electric, there’s whisperings, and everyone starts to lean forwards as the music for “Beauty School Drop-out” begins. Up goes the diner’s neon light to reveal our Teen Angel, Peter Andre. Suddenly, the whole room erupts with screaming wolf whistling and cheering, as the TV star stands, strikes a pose, then performs the song. Throughout, the song is mostly inaudible for screams and cheers, but when I did manage to catch a few lines of his vocal, I have to say, I was most underwhelmed. His costume and swagger on stage made him appear like a wannabe Bruno Mars, who for no apparent reason, shuffled around the stage, looking lost in the following scene, drinking a beer, before disappearing into a white light upstage. The headliner from all the PR, posters and adverts, and his whole role is done and dusted in 6 minutes.

The story goes on, and we come to the conclusion, where Sandy has transformed into the rebellious rock chick at the end, that Danny falls head over heels for, then comes the last of the shows big hits, “You’re The One That I want” which was great. Just a wonderfully cheery rendition of the great song.

The show finished with the entire cast reprising “We Go Together” while executing their bows. Following rapturous applause, Peter Andre pulls out a bedazzled microphone to start the Grease Megamix off. The whole auditorium is on their feet dancing and snapping photos.

Well. That was a really great production. Nikolai Foster and team have done a sterling job in making 2 hours of joy. I’ve mentioned before, choreographer, Arlene Phillips, who has clearly drilled this cast into a really great dance troop. The staging and props for the show were second to none, from the old wireless radio, all the up to the Greased Lightnin’ stage car with working lights, every tiny detail was brilliant, so top marks to Taylor and Foley Prop makers, and Oliver Ellerton and the in-house carpentry team. The lighting on the show was dazzling, sometimes literally, but mostly just a delight to look at, a wash of vibrant colour, and the video display work was also really cleverly delivered, for which, Guy Hoare, the lighting designer, and Douglas O’Connell, the projection designer can be proud of.

I’m a massive fan of theatre wardrobes, and this one, was great. A colourful collection, of '50’s attire, ranging from the BPB, and Pink Ladie’s leather jackets, to school letterman jackets, through day to day clothes, night wear and of course, a whole load of converse trainers. Elizabeth Greengrass and her team in the wardrobe have done a great job.

Not the best night for the sound team tonight, as throughout the night, we had some microphone issues, some people not being switched on, some crackling mics, which almost took some of the shine off the overall performance, but when everything was working, it was sounding great, and I’m sure on any other night, they would be top notch.

This leaves just one group of people to mention, and last but definitely not least, the orchestra. Being a percussionist myself, who enjoys nothing more than playing shows, I thought the band were excellent. The band were also on show all night, as they were raised up in the top right corner of the stage for all to see. MD Neil MacDonald and his band performed a really great show tonight, and they really lifted the show. At times, it was like we were listening to a studio recording of the sound track, but it was all live, so really excellent going team.

All in all a really enjoyable evening. Not without its mishaps, but that’s live theatre! What a fun evening. Thanks to Production Manager, Colin Ingram, and the various producers for putting on this show.

Reviewer - Simon Oliver
on - 26/6/19


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