After a whirlwind summer romance, leather-clad greaser Danny and girl-next-door Sandy are unexpectedly reunited when she transfers to Rydell High for senior year. But can they survive the trials and tribulations of teenage life and find true love once more?
After the release of a certain 1978 film staring Olivia Newton-John and John Trivolta you’d be hard pressed to find a musical theatre fan who hasn’t heard at least one song from Jim Jacobs and Warren Casey’s Grease. The famous filmic production is based on an original musical theatre production which differs from more than resembles the version of Grease most are familiar with. When transitioning from the original 1971 stage production to film, for example, the setting changed from urban Chicago to sunny California and the film added the songs ‘Hopelessly Devoted to You’, ‘You’re the One that I Want’ and ‘Sandy’. Also, whereas it added cut songs ‘Freddy My Love’ and ‘Those Magic Changes’ back into the narrative l, the 2016 Grease Live production starring Aaron Trivet and Vanessa Hudgens has stronger ties to the film adaptation. Between the heavy weight of a beloved reputation and multiple versions to deal from this new Curve touring production has a lot of work to do. I was lucky enough to catch the production on its stop in Cardiff’s Millennium Centre. Now I’m going to be the first to admit that, while I obviously enjoy an occasional watch, I’m not an absolute devotee to the film adaptation. I enjoy the music more than anything and I was excited to hear all of the songs collected into one place after discovering, when watching the 2016 Grease Live production, that I loved the songs cut from the film mentioned above as well as those which made it in. As this production has so many significantly differing versions to draw from I’m going to be reviewing the narrative and it’s transition back into the stage as well as this individual production’s cast and staging.
Firstly, it’s hard to believe this is Martha Kirby’s professional debut. She appeared so well rooted within the character and her beliefs that it becomes easier to understand Grease as a journey for Sandy. This benefitted the production enormously when it came towards the ending. Kirby’s gorgeous vocals whilst providing a specific interpretation of the Sandra Dee Reprise communicated her ending transition not as one of having to change yourself to get a boy but as Sandy considering if the persona she has somewhat unknowingly presented to others is how she wanted to be known as for, as you think you will be as a teenager, for the rest of her life. During this production I found the ending far more relatable than that in the film as a young girl’s experimentation period showing that she has the confidence to try something completely new whilst also striving to have something real come from her crush on Danny. I really admire Kirby’s ability to turn what is in most cases Sandy’s secondary and shorter song into an eleven o’clock number with an impact to rival the big group numbers. I also couldn’t help but be reminded a little of Jessie Muller, known for originating the role of Jenna in the Broadway production of Waitress, in Kirby’s facial expressions and acting style during both ‘Sandra Dee Reprise’ and ‘I’m Hopelessly Devoted to You’. I will certainly be watching out for her as her career progresses.
Whenever I watch a production of Grease I always end up with a soft spot for Rizzo and this time was no different. As soon as she’s on stage Rhianne-Louise McCaulsky embodies the sassy and confident persona Rizzo is so well-known for. She immediately sets herself apart not only from the other Pink Ladies but also from the student body as a whole. However, she truly steals the show during ‘There are Worse Things I Could Do’ by showing the complexities of always being the strong and sassy one in front of your friends. Unlike so many other versions this song doesn’t isolate Rizzo but actually recasts her admittance as the climax to her grating friendship with Sandy. This is part of my favourite aspect of this production. Contributing to the clarity of the ending, I was very glad to see that after their difficulties Sandy and Rizzo are given some genuine moments of friendship during their shared verses and choreography during ‘You’re the One that I Want’. Similarly, the other Pink Ladies including Eloise Davies (Frenchie), Tara Sweeting (Marty) and Natalie Woods (Jan) ensure that their moments leading to ‘Freddie My Love’ and ‘We Go Together’ at the conclusion of both Act One and Two demonstrate the genuine friendship between their characters as teenage girls who have clearly been friends for a long time.
Louis Grant was another stand out of the night for his performance as Kenickie. The choreography of this production individualised quite a few of the numbers but as soon as Grant was involved he ensured that the audience appreciated the movements both as choreography and as the movements of the character which in other areas of the production was a clash never truly solved. Alongside McCaulsky, Grant also kept a check on his emotions during those scenes where over exaggeration would disservice the sensitive subject matter. The production overall didn’t allow for a huge amount of discussion and subtlety in the dialogue when these issues were introduced or resolved but both Grant and McCaulsky handled these difficulties expertly. Jordan Abey mad ran adorable Doody and his rendition of ‘Those Magic Changes’ was as lovely and sweet as it could be.
Dan Partridge’s Danny did come to grow on me especially during Danny’s letter in the conclusion of the action and ‘You’re the One that I Want’. During these numbers the audience could fully appreciate Danny’s innocent role in the ending as an addition benefitting the source material. However, despite Partridge’s compelling vocals especially during ‘Sandy’ and ‘How Big I’m Gonna Be’ which cant be denied, the character of Danny himself got a little lost within a choppy narrative. As the production attempts to balance both the original stage production and the iconic film I felt it could never decide if there were two sides to Danny during the songs above or if he should remain, as he says outright in the dialogue, exactly the same. Couple this with the importance of change and social expectation do character to the very themes of the show and Danny’s letter comes to encapsulate the confusion I felt with his character; this was the first time I could see an explicit difference as Danny was sensitive in admitting his realisations to Sandy but in the very same letter he states that he will always be the boy she has come to know who hasn’t demonstrated that sensitivity and maturity until that very point. I think this issue in the production is shown primarily through the clear cut differentiations between the scenes in which Sandy and Danny are disagreeing with each other and those in which they’re attempting to make a form of relationship work. For example, in this production we never see them arrange the drive through date and their only scene prior to this date is a fight after which they seem to not be speaking. Following their drive through argument the music shifts in to ‘Sandy’ as soon as she leaves. Danny is like the audience and is never given the chance to consider what is actually going on and sometimes the palatability of his character suffers for it. These narrative issues are not limited to Danny’s arc in convincing Sandy either that he cannot change or that he isn’t as bad as she believes him to be. There are some aspects, such as the boys conflict with a rival group, which do affect other points of the narrative and do come to fruition, however, they don’t convince the audience that the result was really worth the extended period of set-up to achieve it. Whilst watching these parts I could see both now and why they had been adjusted for the more linier narrative of the film adaptation.
Overall, it cannot be denied that this production struggles to balance each semi individualistic version of Grease. However, it is an evening of pure enjoyment and escapism and that’s what matters to a majority of the attendants. It’s also aided by a cast who do justice to their roles and the music. If you love Grease go and see this show. You’ll love the evening it gives you full of excellent music all around and new faces in the cast to hopefully follow in their careers for a long time to come. I would also recommend this show to someone who perhaps hasn’t seen the film all the way through, as my plus one hadn’t, or has but a long time ago as I feel the nostalgia and escapism for a couple hours will be just as enjoyable. Grease is running at the Wales Millennium Centre until the 19th of October and you can book your tickets here: https://www.wmc.org.uk/en/whats-on/2019/grease/
Following in the example of other current shows, such as Six, they allow you to follow the mega mix at the end of the show:
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