Golden oldie tale of teenage love

Grease

The New Alexandra Theatre

*****

THIS is a show that fizzes like a bottle of pop as old Jim used to say – you won't know old newspaper messenger Jim, who is long gone, but you know what he meant when a production has this much energy, vitality and pure, unadulterated fun about it.

It is slick, dance routines are on permanent fast forward and the only time the pace drops is that bit in the middle when the safety curtain comes down.

All right the plot is not exactly Shakespeare and the raw, edgy 1971 original by  Jim Jacobs and Warren Casey was sanitised long ago so that, for example, social issues of teen pregnancy or gang violence come down to little more than a mention in passing rather than something to be confronted.

So what is left is a fluffy teen love story with about as much substance as candy floss but who cares when you have a show which entertains, makes you forget your cares and woes for a couple of hours, feeds you nostalgia like a giant bucket of popcorn and sends you home with a warm glow of happiness and a smile on your face.

Sandy, played with suitable demure innocence by Carina Gillespie, is the new girl at Rydell High where she finds her summer romance was with the school's own Daddy Cool, Danny, played with a sort of mix of John Travolta and The Fonz by the likable Danny Bayne.

And it is important that the audience do like Danny, the character, and are rooting for him as well as Sandy as he battles his hormones in the testosterone fueled confusion of whether his macho image is more important than showing his feelings for Sandy.

That's a bloke thing – ignoring the girl you would happily die for rather than lose face with mates.

Danny, the actor, has a pleasant voice, plays to the crowds with a tongue in cheek manner and shows a nice turn of humour particularly in the drive-in in the borrowed car, Greased Lightning with Sandy. Oh, and the boy can dance. His jive with the hard nosed Cha Cha, played in a sort of picture of lithe lust by Sophie Zucchini, was a highlight.

Take your partners . . . Danny Bayne as Danny finds his partner Sophie Zucchini as Cha Cha hasn't a leg to stand on as they sweep the floor in the dance contest

The light of his life, as long as the lads are not around, Sandy looks and sounds a vulnerable teenager in the hands of Gillespie until her final scene transformation into the sort of girl mothers warn sons about -  and certainly don't want brought home. Dads don't mind – but that's a bloke thing again.

Her Hopelessly Devoted to You as she mopes at home alone while the rest are at a school dance is genuinely sad.

Taking the singing honours though are Ricky Rojas as Kenickie who has the whole theatre rocking with his Greased Lightning and the tough-talking, smoking, drinking and . . . let's just say she has a reputation, Pink Ladies gang leader Rizzo, played with abrasive charm by Kate Somerset How.

Her There Are Worse Things I Could Do got well deserved cheers. She packed some real emotion into that one.

Popping up as Teen Angel is Robin Cousins who produces a surprisingly good voice and looks remarkably at home on stage.

Driving the whole thing is a really sharp, clean-sounding seven piece band under Barney Ashworth who keep the music going without drowning out the singers – although some of the words did vanish in songs and accents from time to time.

Terry Parson's set is simple and effective with lots of neon lights and 50s memorabilia giving us a drive-in, the bleachers at the track, the school gym and the Burger  Palace with Greased Lightning rolling in and out from time to time, all with minimum delay.

There was also a nice touch with the lighting from the Grease logo becoming blindingly bright at the beginning to the use of pin spots for solos which was a popular feature of the 50s.

Choreography is by Arlene Phillips and is not only lively buts shows hours of hard work and rehearsals to  get a cast of 23 doing the same steps at - and this is the real trick - the same time.

The musical is 40 years old now but is hardly showing its age and has enough well known numbers of the likes of  You're The One That I Want and  Summer Nights to  to keep bopping along for another 40 years at least.

For mums and dads this is nostalgia, pure and simple, drainpipe trousers, bobby socks, DA's, (ask your dad), 45s, leather jackets, back pocket combs and looking cool - stupid as well maybe . . . but that's still cool; for today's youngsters who think they invented teen musicals, this is High School Musical  for grown ups - less saccharine and more attitude.  To 31-12-11

Roger Clarke

Nothing to do with the show, but this week I was talking to Jonny Fines after seeing him In A Christmas Carol at Lichfield Garrick and a day later I watched his sister Olivia who plays Lou-Anne in Grease.

Meanwhile at the other end of the gym . . .

****

IT is still advertised as the No 1 Greatest Musical, and it's certainly as slick as the greased hair of the testosterone-fuelled lads at Rydell High School.

 But in my opinion Grease has been overtaken by shows like Les Mis and Phantom which contain great drama, brilliant music and spectacular scenes.

Nevertheless, the American high school tale of teenage love, which  became a hit film starring John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John in 1978, is value-for-money entertainment with some really big numbers like Summer Nights, Greased Lightnin' and Hopelessly Devoted to You.

The young cast display tremendous energy with Arlene Phillips' exciting choreography and received an impressive response from an audience which included some first time youngsters as well as veteran fans.

Danny Bayne fits the role of the swaggering, leather jacketed Danny Zuko perfectly, and Carina Gillespie is equally well-suited to the prim and proper high school newcomer, Sandy, who has to cope with teasing from more experienced girls at Rydell.

But the show ends with her dramatic change in appearance as she seals her love for Danny.

And would you believe it, former World ice skating champion Robins Cousins, MBE, turns up as Teen Angel in that cracking number, Beauty School Dropout. He sings well, too, and has the last word when he invites the audience to give generously in buckets at the exits in a collection for the local Acorns charity. To 31-12-11

Paul Marston

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