New Victoria Theatre, Woking, then touring
Guest reviewer: Elizabeth J Smith
When Grease hit our cinemas back in 1978 I was a wide-eyed 13 year old enthralled by the story, the music and the Grease feeling. So much so as I went to see the film six times. This was a time before video tapes, DVDs and streaming.
I am a huge fan, I knew the whole film off by heart and the soundtrack is still my go to album if I want a lift. So I was excited to be invited to the gala evening of Grease at the New Victoria Theatre, Woking.
As the audience arrived, with a number of Pink Ladies and T Birds you could feel the anticipation rising in the auditorium, we were all waiting to start toe tapping and silently singing along to our favourite show.
The scene was set with 50s sounds and images playing on the opening curtain with the stage set visible behind the translucent curtain. The curtain rises and you hear the sugary, sickly, sweet voice of DJ Vince Fontaine introducing ‘Grease is the Word’, and it has begun. The stage erupts with the cast and we meet the new but well-loved characters.
Unfortunately, for me this production reverts to calling the T Birds the Burger Palace Boys, BPB. This is the original name, but not one I knew, which for me felt foreign. Some of my best-loved characters, like Eugene and Patty, don’t have the same comic impact I’d seen in earlier performances and I began to feel slightly detached from the show. The BPB open with all the same banter and jostling of teenage boys and the giggly gossip of the Pink Ladies, it’s feeling like home again, ‘Summer Nights’ have returned.
Dan Partridge plays the iconic John Travolta role of Danny Zuko. I liked his interpretation of this role. Much more bad boy, who doesn’t love a bad boy. He also has two songs from the original script and not in the film, ‘How Big I’m Gonna Be’, a solo about his ambitions for the future and with the male ensemble, ‘Tattoo Song’. Both performed well but again alien from the Grease I know and love.
Georgia Louise, Sandy Dumbrowski, was Sandy. Her voice was fantastic but more operatic than school playground. Some scenes were played more of a resemblance to a Disney princess than the girl next door.
Tendai Rinomhota, Betty Rizzo, played it edgy. You could recognise her as a bit of a bully to
those not in her circle, but still showed the vulnerability of a teenager who could be knocked up! “Sandra Dee” lost it’s micking taking persona. However, “There are Worse Things I Could Do” showed her vocal talent and won me over.
Paul French, Kenickie, did feel like a bad boy with a well hidden heart. Grease Lightening was a lively number and the rework of the stable fist pump was ingenious. Although the audience still made the old moves.
The Burger Palace Boys were all played like true teenage boys with greater emphasis on sexual innuendo and awkwardness when around girls. The pink ladies stayed true to the much loved movie characters. Inez Budd, Marty, making her debut, proved her worth singing Freddy My Love, with passion and power of a teenager in love or so she thought. Haroun Al’Jeddal and Kalisha Johnson, stood out from the ensemble with their dance routines.
Peter Andre, played the smooth talking DJ Vince Fontaine with the essence of Elvis, James Brown, and someone who knows the effects of happy baccy. His Teen Angel was a truthful, sarcastic voice from above. This scene gave a new energy to Beauty School Drop Out with humour, great choreographer and superb costumes.
This production isn’t a replay of Grease the movie it has a much grittier feel, more street cred, less Hollywood sweetness. The songs were in a different order than I remember and the some scenes played out differently.
This production of Grease is a caricature of the movie, not in a bad way just different.
A die hard fan may feel little disconcerted with unfamiliar songs and strange layout but will still leave the theatre feeling uplifted and trying to repeat the words to Ram a Lama Lama Kadingeekadingadong on their way home.