18th Nov, 2019

Audience wants Grease performers to 'tell them more' at the Birmingham Hippodrome

Bromsgrove Editorial 16th Aug, 2019 Updated: 16th Aug, 2019

HAVING decided the best way to approach my review of this new version of the classic rock ‘n’ roll musical, (‘Grease’ is indeed the word), I took up pre-show residence in the legendary ‘Green Room Bar’ across the road an hour before the curtain to people-watch.

This was indeed most enlightening as coaches dropped of bevies of middle aged women – many of whom were dressed in pink satin jackets with the logo ‘Pink Ladies’ on them – all of them excited to the point of bursting with froth, frivolity and anticipation. The evening was therefore set to involve an audience who were out for a good time first and foremost, not a culture seeking experience.

Colin Richmond the scenic and costume designer fueled that anticipation with pre-curtain moving projections on a gauze of iconic images of the late 1950s and the birth of rock – ie Elvis and chums.

When the house lights dimmed there was a short glimpse of Danny Zuko and Sandy Dumbrowski entwined in a summer romantic cuddle – which told anyone that did not know and reminded those that did that this is a simple show about teenager angst and first love.

When the gauze flew and the cast hit the stage with the title song, their raw energy was matched with a roar from the house more in keeping with a rock concert or a cup final than a musical.

Danny (Dan Partridge), bows to peer pressure and kills the buds of romance with oh-so-square Sandy (Martha Kirby) stone dead. He has a leather-jacketed brylcreamed-quaffed reputation to uphold after all. Sandy resists all efforts to join the gang and gang culture of the day until of course she dons the leathers, walks the walk and talks the talk to the one that she wants.

The numbers old and new come thick and fast and there really isn’t very much of a plot to get in the way of the songs – just watch naughty high school kids being well – naughty. Sexual naivety, encounter exaggeration and bravado abound in an age before the pill was discovered and permissiveness replaced – “Uh-huh – uh-huh – did you get very far?”

All of the cast are vibrant and giving – there are no weak links, they can sing, dance and portray their roles with individuality. Darren Bennett puts in a show stopping performance as the DJ Vince Fontaine and Rhianne-Louise McCaulsky brings a delicious irony to the ‘girl from the cheap side of town’ Betty Rizzo.

Peter Andre appears briefly as Teen Angel – a role he I’m sure performed very well – it was impossible to hear a word he sang above the ear splitting two thousand plus female screams.

There is strong, quite rightly in-your-face direction from Nikolai Foster and exciting and innovative choreography from Arlene Phillips – however what stops me from giving this show five stars despite its long and lasting standing ovation is the sound.

I don’t know if there was a stand-in operating the board but the levels were often too low (Peter Andre’s pitifully so) and actors microphones came in late, often half way through a piece of dialogue. Like an actor has to learn their  lines  – an engineer must know their cues. Don’t let that put you off though –  this production from Leicester’s powerhouse of new theatre, ‘The Curve’ has so much else going for it.

It’s still the word!

Grease runs at the Hippodrome until August 24.

Click here for times, tickets and more information.

Review by Euan Rose

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