“It’s Greased Lighting…but not as you know it”
This review is going to be a bit of a weird one, because I actually saw this show twice in less than 24 hours, and my opinions on it changed the second time around so bear with me!
When I went in to see this for the first time, I was immediately impressed with the set and screen that waits for you as you arrive. It really sets the scene as the 50s, and that classic opening number really got me excited to see one of my favourite films on stage.
While the first 20 minutes or so were exactly as I was expecting, the rest of the show and plot trails off from what we know of the popular film. Songs were in a different order, there was a bigger focus on characters I didn’t really know, and additional songs I wasn’t a fan of.
I am aware that this is quite a judgemental and subjective opinion, but when I was expecting the film on stage, I was a little let down and wish that this had been better explained before seeing the show. However, I did also find out that the stage show came before the film (WHAT?!), so it’s actually the film that is wrong…
Without considering the film at all, the current production of Grease is very strong. Martha Kirby gives us excellent vocals and a level of passion and spirit that Olivia Newton-John did not, which felt like a refreshing spin on the character to what we knew before.
Dan Partridge as Danny also gives a good performance, but I found his “John Travlota” style to become a little tiresome and his accent made it a struggle to understand all of what he was saying. His rendition of “Sandy” is where you really see him shine.
The second time I saw the production, Will Haswell understudied for Danny, and boy he was terrific from start to finish.
Rhianne-Louise McCaulsky as Rizzo and Louis Gant as Kenickie also contribute to a strong leading cast, with Rhianne stealing the spotlight on more than one occasion.
Louis Gant has a difficult job at singing that classic “Greased Lighting” due to such speedy words, but he pulls it off as well as possible. Rhianne-Louise McCaulsky’s rendition of “There are Worse Things I could Do” is a showstopper.
Supporting Pink Ladies, Eloise Davies, Natalie Woods and Tara Sweeting as Frenchy, Jan and Marty respectively fill the stage with powerful vocals, some interim comedy moments and keep the show going with the oomph and energy it needs. I found the “Burger Palace Boys” less enticing on stage as too much of the humour and “lad” culture was brought in through over-sexualisation and vulgar choreography.
While I am totally aware that Grease has huge misogynistic undertones, I found that this was overdone in the production, making the boys especially very sleazy and unappealing. Particularly the character of Vince Fontaine, the radio star, played by Darren Bennett was just too over the top with his inappropriate sexual advances towards Miss Lynch, played by Corinna Powlesland.
I understand that theatre is a place to tell stories, and not all characters will be “morally good”, but I personally felt that a lot of the sexism could have been toned down. The way that some of it was made to be funny only encourages sexism in everyday life and normalises it. Similarly, some fat jokes and references could certainly have been left in the 50s. A handful of passes are made at Jan for being bigger than the others and the audience is meant to laugh. The fact that the largest of the boys ends up with the largest of the girls is beyond dated and I’m convinced that Ryan Anderson playing Roger was wearing a fat suit – why was this necessary?
The fact that the hot-head of the group, Sonny – played by Damian Buhagiar – was also Puerto Rican was another negative stereotype that I am frustrated with seeing.
My moral judgements aside, this was a good production, and the second time I saw the show I enjoyed it much more knowing that it wouldn’t be a carbon copy of the film. While I criticise the morals of the characters and the ways in which some were represented, everyone on stage has huge talent. Final standout performances come from Jessica Croll as Patty Simcox, Abigail Climer as Cha Cha and Jordan Abey as Doody.
In sum, this production is definitely Greased Lighting…nut not as you know it. Prepare for a really fun night out, good quality theatre, but don’t go in expecting to see the film – you’ll enjoy it more if you know that! Still expect all your favourite songs (if in a different order to what you know) and characters, and you’ll love that megamix at the end!