Louis Gaunt as Kenickie (centre) with Greased Lightnin' quietly rusting behind.

Pictures: Manuel Harlan


Birmingham Hippodrome


It’s a sobering thought that the original Danny Zuko from 1971, Doug Stevenson, now a motivational speaker, and Barry Bostwick, who originated the role on Broadway the following year, and still acting, are both deep into free bus pass territory.

For a certain generation the musical is a cruel reminder of tempus fugit, thankfully tempered by the sunshine filled memories of a youth, sometimes gloriously misspent.

And it is to the credit of celebrated director Nikolai Foster, artistic director of The Curve, Leicester, that this new production of a 48-year-old musical is as vibrant and lively as if it were written yesterday.

Set in 1959 Foster and designer Colin Richmond have enough period touches and authentic looking costumes to capture the time right down to what looked like a vintage Bush radio; perhaps it is far better known around Chiswick than it ever was in Chicago, but to British eyes a Bush trannie, or it’s like, is a beacon for the era.

The music by Jim Jacobs and Warren Casey is another journey back to a simpler age when social media was hand written notes, snail mail and actually talking to each other. They produced a musical with plenty of hit songs from rock to ballads to carry things along and a story that resonated with youth.

For those who have been off the planet for a while the tale is simple. Good girl Sandy is a new pupil at Rydell High where the top girl gang is The Pink Ladies and The Burger Palace Boys are the bad boy gang, filled with the sort of youth mothers warn daughters about.

Leader of the Burger Palace crew is Danny Zuko, who had a fling with Sandy in the summer holiday, and we open with the pair behind a scrim, on the beach, waves lapping around them singing the romantic Sandy.

drive in 

Martha Kirby as Sandy and Dan Partridge as Danny in Greased Lightnin' at the drive in

The romance seems a bit one sided when term starts though as Danny, a Brylcreem, coolest guy on stage performance from Dan Partridge, gives a lustful description to his crew while Sandy, a meek and mild Martha Kirby, gives a more romantic version to The Pink Ladies in a fine rendition of Summer Nights.

It’s all going swimmingly until Danny spots the new girl – and gang leaders can’t be seen to have gone soft or steady or fallen for a girl, so he has to dismiss her to somehow save face – which gives us a couple of hours of teen angst until they get back together again.

The pair sing both well together and individually with Danny’s Sandy and Sandy’s hit ballad Hopelessly Devoted To You among the highlights of the solos.

Louis Gaunt gives us the tough guy Kenickie, who treats us to his pride and joy, his new car, named, somewhat inappropriately, Greased Lightnin’ and what a welcome surprise to see his fast and furious dream machine is a clapped out old jalopy with a cracked screen and held together by rust. Too often productions have a shiny car with enough chrome to bounce signals to the moon.

Kenickie has an off-on-off-on . . . relationship with the cynical tough leader of The Pink Ladies, Betty Rizzo, played with the hint of a snarl by Rhianne-Louise McCaulsky. She has no time for Danny and openly mocks Sandy – in fact it is a struggle to find anyone she really likes.

There is her well sung sarcastic Sandra Dee mocking Sandy but her big number is the bittersweet show tune There Are Worse Things I Could Do and she sings it quite beautifully.

Ryan Anderson as Roger, Rump to his friends on account of his mooning, and Natalie Woods as the, should we say, comfortably upholstered Jan are a delight as they fall for each other with a lovely duet of Mooning.

Then there is Doody, played by Jordan Abey, who has fallen big time for Frenchy, played by Eloise Davies, who will be leaving school to go to beauty school to train as a beautician  . . . and will be leaving beauty school to . . . the future is then, this is about now.

teen angel

Eloise Davies as Frenchy and Peter Andre as Teen Angel

We know the pair are going to get together, especially after would be rock star Doody plays and sings Those Magic Changes.

Frenchy is given some somewhat blunt advice by her Teen Angel, played by pop star Peter Andre who entered to screams and cheers, all it needed was knickers being thrown on stage to equal Tom Jones in his heyday!

To be fair Andre hammed it up nicely in his Beauty School Dropout number, playing, very much tongue in cheek to the audience screams.

Then there was Marty, The Pink Ladies’ very own good time girl who spends act 1 engaged to a marine after a fling, a man who sends her expensive gifts, has an affair with smarmy DJ Vince Fontaine in act 2 and finally ends up with Sonny Latieri, enthusiastically played by Damian Buhagiarwho thinks he is God’s gift to women, but has yet to find a woman who agrees with him - until Marty finally gives in, Incidentally, he is the only Burger Palace Boy without a song to his name.

Darren Bennett plays Fontaine as a cringe inducing DJ on WXXX local top 40 radio station with rhyming patter that make William McGonagall sound like Shakespeare. An aging rocker, he is the judge at the school hand jive contest – with its lively Hand Jive number.

He is a man with dubious intentions – no let’s be honest, fairly obvious intentions for anyone female with a pulse, even one suspects, the spinster English teacher Miss Lynch, played by Corinna Powlesland.

sonny to Roger

Damian Buhagiar (left) as Sonny, Eloise Davies as Frenchy, Natalie Woods as Jan and Ryan Anderson as Roger

Fontaine is at the seedier end of louche and, one suspects, as he nervously adjusts it, he has a head of hair that needs glue rather than grease.

He is a useful device though, with his puerile patter filling in over scene changes from his studio lodged backstage in the centre of the Rydell sign,

Jessica Croll as Patty is a bit of an odd one, not that she is odd, in fact towards most of the pupils she is normal, which makes her . . . well, odd. She is a cheerleader, high achiever and has a thing for Danny.

Those who know the musical, or film, will know the end, and You’re The One That I Want,. Perhaps Sandy could have been a bit more raunchy to emphasis the contrast to her goody two shoes image, but the effect was there and it all led to an enthusiastic medley finale with an audience up on its feet.

The set is clever and flexible with video projection adding interest, especially effective when Danny and Sandy are in a drive in and we see some 3D horror film projected above them.

A mention too for choreography from Arlene Phillips which is back to the school dances of the 50s and early 60s, jiving, hand jiving and always interesting, even with a full stage.

Grease is all about the music and here it was provided by an excellent eight piece band under Musical Director Neil MacDonald, all tucked away on a shelf in the back corner of the stage.

Foster has given this now middle-aged musical a new lease of life, we know the songs and the story but it has been made as exciting and vibrant as if new. It is still firmly set in 1959 but is once more a musical for today. For fans and newcomers alike it is a delight, an old friend with a new lease of life. To 24-08-19.

Roger Clarke


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