The 'teenagers' are a bit long in the tooth, but after 30 years this polished show proves Grease is still the word
The 1978 film of Grease is so enduringly popular it is easy to forget the all-singing, all-dancing tale of 1950s high school romance originated in 1971 on Broadway.
Grease 2012 is a compromise: a reprise of the stage show that apes the movie version. Thus, the Burger Palace Boys are still renamed the T-Birds, and Danny Bayne, as Danny Zuko, mimics John Travolta’s mannerisms down to the last swagger.
Not that this is a problem, of course. Grease isn’t a John Osborne play. Any social commentary that existed in Jim Jacobs and Warren Casey’s original script has long since been smothered in handfuls of hair gel and an increasingly ubiquitous soundtrack.
Sure, the show still touches on issues like teenage pregnancy and gang violence, but it’s all just an excuse to get to the next high-energy musical number. The likes of ‘Summer Nights’, ‘Greased Lightnin’’ and ‘You’re the One That I Want’ still have what it takes to get a packed Grand Opera House bellowing along.
The plot – working-class youths navigate the complexities of love, cars and dance contests – moves along briskly, from one setpiece to the next.
Bayne, the winner of ITV’s Grease Is the Word, has the right mix of preening and vulnerability, playing well against Carina Gillespie’s Sandy. Gillespie (you may recognise her from The Buddy Holly Story) looks fantastic in lycra and sings like a dream on ‘Hopelessly Devoted to You’.
Ricky Rojas, as Danny’s right-hand man, Kenickie, and Kate Somerset How, as Rizzo, round out the principal cast. Not everyone cuts it as a teenager, but maybe this is part of the joke. After all, Stockard Channing was 34 when she portrayed Rizzo in the movie. Here, How (another Grease Is the Word alumnus) has a ball pouting through the bad girl's signature tune ‘Look at Me, I’m Sandra Dee’.
As you’d expect, Grease is a lavish affair. There’s a full live band, giving it their best 50s rock ‘n’ roll-meets-70s disco on a platform above the stage, and Kenickie’s car is wheeled out for ‘Greased Lightnin’’. But the highlight of the evening is probably the whole ensemble jiving in synchronisation on ‘We Go Together’, which is so good it closes both acts.
The Irish leg of this UK touring production has one last ace up its sleeve in the white-suited, bouffant wig-wearing shape of X Factor semi-finalist, Mary Byrne. The Dublin crooner puts the youngsters in the shade with her velvet-voiced rendition of ‘Beauty School Dropout’.
‘Clean-up in aisle three,’ Byrne winks, perched atop a glittering podium. It’s nice to see the erstwhile Tesco employee having so much fun with her second shot at stardom.
John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John may always be the ones that we truly want, but Grease: The Musical is a feel-good treat. There’s some saucy banter, and to the producers’ credit they’ve left in the smoking and drinking, but tonight’s audience, ranging from children to pensioners, exit onto Great Victoria Street with big smiles on their faces, humming the hits from the show. Even in 2012, Grease is the word.
Grease runs in the Grand Opera House until February 25.