REVIEW: Grease The Musical @ Sunderland Empire

Posted on July 31st 2019 by Whats on Northeast

By Andrew Bramfitt

Step back in time, this version of Grease is more real life grit than the saccharin polish of the 1978 movie and is all the better for it.

Director Nikolai Foster has gone back to the original stage production and reset Rydale High.  Using Warren Casey and Jim Jacobs’ initial story, this production delves into the struggles of adolescence in the atomic age of working class America. The ‘everything is sunny’ West Coast feeling of the movie is replaced by a more threatened feeling of life under the mushroom cloud, darker, deeper and in doing so, gives a reboot to one of the most popular, and by default, well-known musicals of the 20th century.

For fans of the film, for which I would guess 99% of the audience are, this is not just a stage version of the Travolta/Newton-John movie; there will be surprises in the way the scenes knit together, the timeline of events is quite different, as too are the dynamics of the ensemble.  The choreography is high octane and dirty and there is a distinct sense of teenage angst and sexual tension which is missing in the sanitised movie.

In revisiting the original, director Foster has resurrected some of the songs lost to the movie and added some new ones specifically for this production.  Sure, the big hitters are there – Summer Nights, Sandy, The One That I Want, Teen Angel but added to these are new (old) hits including Tattoo Song, How Big I’m Gonna Be and Mooning.  Stand out performance is Rizzo’s heartbreaking There Are Worse Things I Could Do which Rhianne-Louise McCaulsky delivers with tragic passion.

For the cast, comparisons will always be made on the Danny/Sandy dynamic; Dan Patridge and Martha Kirby try hard but are just a little short of a believable chemistry that suggests they would really hook up.  The aforementioned McCaulsky is a great Rizzo, vulnerable and afraid but covered in a veneer of faux brashness.  Eloise Davies is a wonderful Frenchy; cute, kooky and still holding onto the ideals that everything is going to be okay.  Of course, the loudest cheer of the night (from the ladies in the audience at least) is reserved for the appearance of Teen Angel, Peter Andre, looking as smooth and charismatic as he did in his pop days.

The show ends with the much expected ‘mega-mix’ giving the audience the opportunity to get up and dance and leaving all with a lovely set of ear worms for the journey home.

Had this been a straight remake of the movie, it would be a solid 3 star production, but the return to the original, the brilliant choreography and the excellent direction lift this up to a 5 star Must See.


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