(seen at the afternoon preview performance on 14th September 2019).
Didi Conn ("Frenchie" in the movie "Grease") was watching the movie on hotel
cable one day, and suggested to her husband it would make a great musical. It
lasted about six months on Broadway, and the book "Making It Big" charts the
entire history in fascinating detail. The monkey never saw the show back then,
but, like Director and Choreographer Morgan Young bought that cast album from
"Dress Circle" and dreamed one day of a London production. That day has
... and, well, the show is OK. Just, well, OK. It lacks both the humour and
charm of the film, and takes a long time to tell the same tale punctuated by a
fair few average songs.
The good news is that there are a few gems in the cast. Matthew Kelly (George
MacMillan) is every inch the toy-factory owner, the whole show gaining many
degrees of emotional warmth in his scenes. Kimberley Walsh (Susan Lawrence) also
manages some decent character work making her love-lorn marketing executive
credible. As Josh Baskin, Jay McGuiness does his best with dialogue lacking the
emotional range of the movie script. Where that had a child speaking as an
adult, this simply has adult lines, making his tender age less real in some
crucial act two scenes.
Notes too for "Red Team" youngsters as the friends, particularly one young
dancer - can't identify - who will go far. Oh, and young sidekick Jobe Hart as
Billy almost steals the show even if the famous "rap" line failed to register
with the afternoon's audience.
And therein lies the failings of the show. Big (no pun intended) scenes are
diluted by the need to be sung and choreographed. The famous piano should be a
joyous demonstration of mutual skills. Instead it's so obviously faked it was
dull - and the sequence over-extended to diminish returns still further by
including the children in the game rather than remaining the personal bond it
On the plus side, Morgan Young does his utmost to keep the story moving and the
cast moving with it - the dance routines are never less than polished and
involving. Simon Higlett's set and Ian Willian Galloway's video designs cover
the locations as required and the costumes are impressive - the party dresses in
particular would sell better than the t-shirts on the souvenir stand. Money has
also been spent on the orchestra for a nice change, 16 of them with Jeremy
Wootton enthusiastic as Musical Director.
Very much a product of its Broadway decade, this show is high-quality but with
that plastic feel of pre-packaged "mega-hit" that was being turned out at the
time. A little like the toy which didn't quite sell what was expected at
Christmas and was forgotten about by New Year. It's a pleasant few hours, pretty
family-friendly, but not as big as those of us who remember the original cinema
outing will hope.