Grease – STILL the Word!
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REVIEW: Grease at the Mayflower – 27 June 2017
By David Cradduck
Mayflower Theatre welcomes ‘Little’ Jimmy Osmond to Southampton sending himself up in a brilliantly played up cameo role as Teen Angel. But that’s not the end of the story of this latest tour of the 50-year old Grease musical.
The 1978 film, made so famous by John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John (it didn’t do them any harm either) is the bar by which we have set any version since. The 2017 stage tour, starring Tom Parker as T-Bird tough guy Danny Zuko and Danielle Hope as wholesome and loveable Sandy, doesn’t disappoint on any level.
Yes, the original storyline is thin: it’s the 50s, boy meets girl over summer hols, fall in love, reunite unexpectedly for the final year at small town Rydell High School, he plays it too cool and nearly ends up losing her but it all comes right in the end.
The songs, familiar to millions, and stunning choreography by Arlene Phillips (Strictly Come Dancing) are by far the biggest stars in the show, even counting for loveable, cheeky Jimmy Osmond who gets top billing for a 10 minute cameo.
Parker, of ‘The Wanted’ band, looks and sounds slightly out of his comfort zone to start with but grows into the part and he can dance, despite the lack of formal training and being surrounded by others who excel at it.
Hope, who beat off 9,000 others to play Dorothy in the BBC’s Over the Rainbow, also slightly lacks self-assurance but that goes well with Sandy’s initial shyness.
But by the closing number, ‘You’re The One That I Want’, as Sandy transforms into raunchy and stunning, poured into those skin-tight leggings, she has the audience eating out of her hand. She can certainly sing, too, although some numbers suit her better and on occasions the embellishments become almost operatic. All in all the two leads do a cracking job.
Probably the biggest element in this show, easily making Grease among the top musicals I have seen at The Mayflower – is the fun factor. Fast and furious, familiar numbers are sung and danced throughout with a dynamism that sweeps you along. Your face aches from smiling and your hands from clapping.
Close second comes a really well-drilled cast in fabulously colourful 50s costumes designed by Andreane Meofitou.
Strutting, swaying, swirling and twirling around every inch of the stage, the precision of the dance routines – especially the big chorus numbers – is perfection to watch; not over-complicated in structure but choreographed so well that it takes your breath away. How they all sing and dance ‘We Go Together’ which closes the first, and probably better half, I don’t know. Hand jive is one thing, but this is on a whole different level, along with the rest of the dance moves.
Apart from the inimitable Jimmy O, there are notable front row performances: Tom Senior as Dean Martin-inspired Renickie; Ryan Heenan as Doody (great voice), Rosanna Harris in the role of Jan; Louisa Lytton (Ruby in EastEnders) brings a darker, petulant note to the role of Rizzo.
Callum Evans plays the geeky, Clark Kent-esque Eugene so well and then – hey presto – ends up doing cartwheels and somersaults. A quick peek at his biog reveals that he is ‘an accomplished acrobatic gymnast’. He certainly is.
Extra songs have been added to the original film score line-up and one or two scenes differ: the finale is set in a colourful burger bar rather than a fairground and there is a shower scene pastiche which shows off the male cast to good effect, complete with shower head mics and louffahs being brandished in quite unusual ways!
Parents of young children might find the overly used pelvic thrusts and ‘giving the finger’ gestures a little awkward to explain but otherwise this is a show for all the family and appeals to young and old alike.
The standing ovation for the final curtain speaks volumes – a nice touch being a reprise medley of many of the songs for the curtain call.
The neon signs, fireworks, the car which by magic transforms into a glittermobile, superb lighting by Mark Henderson and great set design (Terry Parsons), topped off with the talented musical direction of Griff Johnson and his band – cleverly visible up and behind the stage in the opening overture and at other times – complement David Gilmore’s overall direction.
Veteran performer Paul Nicholas (who played Danny on stage in 1973 opposite Elaine Page as Sandy) co-produced with award winning David Ian whose credit list goes on and on… and so will Grease, the musical that people never seem to tire of, and for good reason. Many have said that it needs to be reworked for a new audience. I disagree, I think it’s just fine as it is.
Grease plays at The Mayflower until 8th July – More details and Tickets
Images: (show) Paul Coltas