I must have seen the movie Grease a dozen times or more, the first at the tender age of seventeen. And I certainly wasn't alone: as the show started with the live band playing all the familiar numbers, there were instant ripples amongst the audience as people sang along happily to the likes of Summer Loving and Hopelessly Devoted to You.
Grease The Musical – a diluted version of the raunchy, raw and gritty script it once was – is set in the 1950's, a time of innocence and post-War recovery in America. It is shamelessly sentimental in its portrayal of the ideal High School experience; with reminders of Romeo and Juliet and West Side Story, the universal theme of star-crossed lovers and external obstacles takes centre stage. Boy meets girl, boy loses girl, boy finds girl again. But there are deeper issues to be aware of amongst the action, and in essence it is a story of "firsts": first love, first break up, first cars and first encounters with sex.
The music score remains priceless, hit after hit that we all recognise, and it's no wonder this was voted the number one musical of all time in 2003. In this production, the group numbers were buoyant, with the company feeding off each other's energy. It was good to see the song Greased Lightning returned to Kenickie (Tom Senior), as in the original stage musical.
But strangely enough it was the lesser-known numbers that I enjoyed the most. Those Magic Changes sung by Doody (Ryan Heenan), accompanied by the T Birds with the two fellow students dancing in shower cubicles, was a highlight. And there were fabulous harmonies between Roger (Oliver Jacobson) and Jan (Rosanna Harris), where the connection in the song Mooning felt a little more real.
Sandy (Danielle Hope) is convincing in her role, capturing the innocence of the new girl on the block and singing effortlessly in her big numbers. But sadly I didn't feel the chemistry, let alone the love, between her and Danny Zuko (Tom Parker). I know that Parker has giant boots to fill and he does have a good voice, but I just didn't believe in him as the super-confident King of Cool. As the leader of the pack, Danny needs to be charismatic, sexy and charming; unfortunately I found the portrayal here more awkward and and affected.
And in truth, the gang of T Birds didn't feel that convincing either. All of them were trying just that little bit too hard to be too cool for school, and the resulting over-acting was sometimes uncomfortable to watch. I was equally disappointed by the half-hearted Rizo (Louisa Lytton), whose character just wasn't feisty, sassy or sexy enough to command the stage.
It was Teen Angel (George Olney) who stole the show for me. Not only can Olney sing, but his over-the-top preening and exaggerated love for himself during Beauty School Drop-Out was highly entertaining. And don't miss his hilarious dance on the bar during the finale; it was like watching a one-man show taking place in the background.
It was great to hear the familiar music score, and to be able to sing along to such wonderful songs – and for a brief time I was transported back to my teens. But sadly, despite some strong individual performances, this little bit of summer loving didn't chase the chills away for me this December.