268-269 Tottenham Court Road, Fitzrovia, London W1T 7AQ 0345 200 7982
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Ends 29th October 2022.
CONTAINS FLASHING LIGHTS SIMILAR TO STROBE LIGHTING. SOUND LEVELS CAN BE HIGH THROUGHOUT THE SHOW. HAZE / SMOKE MACHINE IS USED. SMOKING ON STAGE. CONTAINS STRONG LANGUAGE. SHOW NOT SUITABLE FOR THOSE AGED UNDER 7. THOSE AGED UNDER 5 CANNOT BE ADMITTED.
She's hot, he's cool, they had summer lovin' but now it's back to school...
The classic musical tale of 1950s Sandy and Danny is given a new production promising extra material.
(seen at the afternoon preview performance on 7th May 2022)
West End musical theatre nerds delight in reminding people that “Grease” starring Richard Gere (and later featuring Elaine Paige) lasted 236 performances in 1973 at the New London Theatre, before a vastly altered version became the hit movie which in turn begat the Paul Nicholas / David Ian 1993 “Grease Is The Word” mix of the original show and film to great commercial success.
At the Dominion again nearly 30 years later, Jim Jacobs and Warran Casey have taken yet another hack at it, creating something closer to “West Side Story” than the fluffy, adorable pink (ladies) tale we all know and love.
A bit like reading the original Grimm fairy stories having grown up on Disney animated feature versions, this is going to come as something of a shock to many Danny and Sandy fans. Certainly it took the monkey a good first half and a bit to really settle to it. Still, as a piece of musical theatre archaeology, it is somewhat worth the effort.
The basic plot and key scenes are the same. There’s Rizzo’s sleepover, the dance contest, the garage and high school canteen and bleachers. The songs survive as well, for the most part, with a number of additions of material probably deleted from the original stage show. The most notable change is in the characters themselves, the portrayal of their lives and backstories.
As the 1993 programme notes point out, American teenagers lived in a world of grease. The food they ate, the hair products they used, the cars they drove. Yet somehow the movie and subsequent revivals had them all bathed in Swarfega and dusted with sugar before we meet them. This time around, the kids are real teenagers. Obsessed with being cool, sex, friendship, music, status, fashion and with the mood swings to prove it.
It's a shock to find Sandy (Olivia Moore) expressing actual opinions. Everybody’s friend Frenchie (Eloise Davies) growls and bites. The guys are in the “Burger Palace Gang” and actually fight rival groups – drawing the attention of Office Mailie (Darren Bennett, nicely brutal) – and operate with the threat of the Military Draft hanging over them.
With all this grit, Arlene Phillips and Nikolai Foster appear to be pulling in different directions. The Phillips choreography is as usual sharp and inventive, every note matching a movement. Foster, though, directs as realistically as possible, the two approaches jarring to make each song / scene transition oddly cumbersome.
The hits are delivered on a vast scale – “Teen Angel” a riot of shiny pink material - before the bubble-gum snaps rudely back to real teen life.
A major fault is that while those hits land, there is good reason some of the earlier material was cut. Having the authentic sounds of Buddy Holly, Neil Sedaka etc playing in the background gives atmosphere, and underlines the error restoring such duds as “How Big I’m Gonna Be” and the “Tattoo Song.”
While the former explains a lot about Danny Zuko, his ambitions and self-awareness under the alpha-male exterior, the song itself adds nothing to the preceding dialogue. Luckily, the other number is over almost before it begins, but neither demonstrates any reason to leave the cutting room bin beyond the call of Eugene the nerd.
Perhaps more wisely, given the audience’s muted reaction to the first curtain-call, a “Megamix” gets most to their feet, if only to see the stage past those in front. Notably, the new material doesn’t feature... but the fun stuff does... interesting, no?
Colin Richmond’s scenic concept is also peculiar. Gym ropes and wall bars surround the action, spilling up and over the proscenium. Why Rizzo’s room has wall bars is anyone’s guess (“50 Shades of Grey” being well into the future) but since it is split apart in the strangest manner, maybe they are for her to cling to at night for security.
Could be the same reason the teenagers’ basement den has them walking upstairs then down another set to exit. “Greased Lightning” herself is never given her just remodelling either, just weird side running lights amid the rust.
The costumers are pretty good – though a Rydell Letter Jacket will set you back £50 in the gift shop outside (being a Pink Lady is cheaper at £35) and the hair and makeup could start a revival justifying a salon behind the counter, perhaps.
Of the performances, most are strong. Dan Partridge makes an immature Danny. Unable to handle his emotions, ultimately to even fake them, an actual loser by the end – as Sandy points out, “what have you really done?”
Olivia Moore sings like a dream, is decisive but is somewhat denied her final transformation moment by a staging which, while bringing new meaning to “You’re The One That I Want” keeps the couple apart and seemingly unimpressed by the moves each are making to generate multiple chills between them.
Around them, faculty “goody two-shoes” Patty Simcox is given a far larger role than in any previous incarnation of the show. Jessica Croll makes excellent work of an insecurity culminating in a heart-to-heart with head teacher Miss Lynch (Corina Powlesland).
This lady is on amusing fan-girl form when Vince Fontaine is around – Peter Andre enjoying the attention as much as singing his sleazy cod-philosophising numbers when not working the DJ booth somewhere between the sky and malt shop.
Jake Reynolds as Doody gives us a wonderful guitar-strumming “Those Magic Changes,” Noel Harrison and Mary Moore as Roger and Jan an equally strong confessional “Mooning” – some much-needed comedy in an often grey atmosphere.
Paul French (Kenickie) is a loner, Jocasta Almgill’s Rizzo using him a little more than is acceptable yet creating a real chemistry. Almgill’s “Worst Things I Could Do” may not find “that” note, but she makes it a fascinating post-party delivery to Sandy rather than the usual solo monologue.
A note too for Damon Gould as Sonny and Noah Harrison as Roger, both strong vocally and giving their characters something more than just superficial status. Likewise, Katie Lee as Cha Cha is flamboyant and makes the most of her moment in the dance spotlight.
This is almost like listening to the “director’s commentary” on a movie DVD. What you think you know about the characters and the show are given an entirely different slant. Fresh for sure, sometimes refreshing, sometimes irritating to see what actually works discarded in a retrograde move.
The trouble is that the Dominion theatre is a vast space requiring upbeat sun to light up the back rows. This far darker toned revisal would probably feel more at home in a studio space a third of the size, where the angst might match black walls and the audience be more receptive to such emotional swings.
Never short of teen spirit, the word still has both groove and meaning, even if the time, place and motion are not always synchronised to really burn up that quarter mile the way that previous, stronger incarnations prove the show can do.
Started out in circle Q 19, 20, 21. Central, back row, good leg room, clear view albeit from a distance but hideous people around us! There was constant rustling, talking, using phones, drinking, chatting etc and there were masses of empty seats in the lower circle so we moved at the interval to D 42,43,44. These were towards the side but really close to the stage and had a clear view of everything as there wasn't much curve or angle. Good seats and near the doors for a quick getaway.
It was all very bizarre, the back half of the circle was more or less full but lower down, barely a quarter full. We could have moved to central row B which was empty. The ridiculous ticket price may have scuppered this show completely - this was a Friday night.
To be honest though I did think it was pretty dreadful bar the big song and dance numbers, but as the film is my absolute fave nothing can compare and I wasn't really expecting to like it much.
As far as I can see, this is a revival of the original production (the one with Richard Gere that proved even a major star can’t save a flawed production). It’s most certainly not the sugar-coated one we’ve seen in theatres over the last 20-odd years, themselves birthed from the mega-hit movie (fitting we see a revival in the year we sadly lost Olivia Newton-John… this little theatregoer has fond memories of seeing her in concert the year Grease the Movie debuted).
I can see why it was revamped. It’s… disjointed. The revamp wisely enhanced one or two scenes whilst losing others (example, in this version Danny joins the track team, then quits the track team, without ever seeing how he got in the track team. In the movie/later stage productions, it’s clear Danny’s who-knows-how many a day habit plus zero athletic know-how means he will fail his try-out, covering ineptitude by starting a fight).
I couldn’t tell who Danny was trying to impress half the time; a (much gutsier, a welcome difference) Summer Love Sandy, or Head Cheerleader/School Council/Future President and Danny fangirl Patty. The story between Danny and Sandy needs gaps filling. Sandy is going on a date with the track captain. Unlike the film/revivals, this doesn’t turn into why Danny tries out. Next thing you know, Danny and Sandy are on a date, about to ‘go steady’, with no lead into why they date again.
And the ‘new’ songs (guessing they’re from the original)? I can see why they were dropped, they don’t add value.
And - this for me is really odd - Greased Lightning? It’s brushed to the side. The car was a rallying point, it had a major storyline of it’s own. Here? Rustbucket bought, not much happens to it aside from Danny borrowing for the (unexplained) date with Sandy and then it’s scrapped at the end.
For me, a big disappointment was "The One That I Want": In the film, both Danny and Sandy change to get the one they love. In this production? Sandy changes clothes, attitude etc. Danny? Doesn't alter a jot. Doesn't send out much of a message, does it? 'It's OK to be an immature dickhead, she'll come round to you in the end'.
There are good things about this version. Sandy isn’t such a doorstep. Kenickie is a much better character for being a loner rather than Danny’s sidekick. And the part of Frenchie is beefed up - a welcome development - giving her much more to do, with bite rather than being just everyone’s sweet buddy. And there’s grit - the ‘Burger Palace Gang’ (please, would you really call yourself that? In the UK you would have been the “Wimpy Kids”) actually have fights. And the police brutality towards the kids? Very powerful.
I’d love to see a revised version somewhere between the original and the confectionery we’ve all come to know and love. The grit and the characterisation from here, with the embellished (and tidied) storyline of the movie version would make for a great show.
Overall, this is a bit of a museum piece. Definitely worth seeing, but I’d say a once-only trip. And the rest of the audience appeared to share my opinion. Notable at curtain call, bums stayed firmly on seats until the ‘Mega-Mix’ (how many more shows are going to lift that idea from SIX?), and then quite a few only seemed to be getting up to see the stage.
Seat review: stalls R43 and 44
Just close enough to see expressions, also clear of the dress circle (the full proscenium arch is in view). You’re a bit to the side, but not uncomfortably so. Comfort levels are good, I barely moved during the production, seats are padded nicely with decent legroom. Occasionally the sound seemed a little off here. We were both fine in terms of sightlines, but if a taller patron had sat in front, it would have been a different story.
The monkey advises checking performance times on your tickets and that performances are happening as scheduled, before travelling.
Monday to Saturday at 7.30pm
Thursday and Saturday at 2.30pm and 7.30pm
Runs 2 hours 30 minutes approximately.
Theatres use "dynamic pricing." Seat prices change according to demand for a particular performance. Prices below were compiled as booking originally opened. Current prices are advised at time of enquiry.
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DAY SEATS AT THE BOX OFFICE: Day seats available to personal callers for £29.50 or £45 each. The higher price applies when availability is low or locations are better. Box Office is normally open from 12 noon until 7.45pm, but opening times may vary, you may wish to check before travelling if making a special journey.
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