REVIEW: A grittier Grease is still the one that we want for summer nights at Milton Keynes theatre
Alan Wooding reviews Grease at Milton Keynes Theatre
Much has change since John Travolta starred as Danny Zuko and Olivia Newton-John as Sandy Olssen in the 1978 film Grease judging by director Nikolai Foster's latest stage version of the hit show which has now reverted back closer to the original 1971 storyline.
It means that those sun-kissed beaches of California are but a distant memory as Grease has now travelled some 2,000 miles east from the USA's West Coast to Chicago in America's Midwest.
While the film version has been written into folklore as one of the highest grossing musicals ever, the touring version of Grease opened at Milton Keynes Theatre on Monday night and instead of Danny (superbly played by Dan Partridge) heading up the T-Birds, he's now leader of The Burger Palace Boys who had a summer fling on a beach with a loved up Sandy.
Georgia Louise plays the not-quite-so-shy Sandy who arrives at Rydell High ahead of her senior year but, unlike in the film, her surname changes from Olssen back to Dumbrowki – the clue is in the Sandra Dee number! But Danny is a big 'I am' and he plays it cool which leaves poor Sandy receiving the cold-shoulder treatment.
The fabulous musical score certainly stands the test of time with Jim Jacobs and Warren Casey's iconic tale taking us back to 1959. However you can forget the candy floss and saccharine sweetness associated with the film – which went on to become one of the biggest grossing musicals ever – as we're immediately met by working-class Chicago kids when rock 'n' roll was still in its infancy.
Grease now has a much grittier feel about it. The lovey-dovey storyline which focussed on leather-jacket clad Danny and shy goody two-shoes Sandy has gone and instead other characters feature far more - and none more so than those Pink Ladies.
They're still a major force to be reckoned with, especially Rizzo (Tendai Rinomhota) whose acerbic wit constantly puts innocent girl-next-door Sandy down, much to the amusement of Kenickie (Paul French), her would-be lover whose Greased Lightnin’ number is a real cracker.
However it's Peter Andre as the school's resident DJ Vince Fontaine who is truly electrifying, especially in his Teen Angel guise when he's drenched in hairspray during Beauty School Dropout.
Peter is also the undoubted star of the Rydell High Halloween Ball early in the Second Act. His Elvis-like stance brought plenty of audience reaction during his rousing Hand Jive number, which followed Shakin At The High School Hop, brilliantly delivered by Johnny Casino (Jacob Fisher).
Naturally all the favourite songs from the film are still there, including multi chart-topper Summer Nights, the aforementioned Greased Lightnin', We Go Together, Hopelessly Devoted to You and You're The One That I Want, which actually seemed to take on a new twist.
There are several other numbers that I heard for the first time including a rendition of Freddy My Love by The Pink Ladies – led by Marty (Inez Budd), Jan (Maeve Byrne), Frenchy (Marianna Neofitou) and Rizzo. Meanwhile Roger (Josh Barnett) and Jan almost brought the house down with the hilarious Mooning duet. Another highlight was Rizzo's solo There Are Worse Things I Could Do - the hit numbers just kept coming!
Other members the cast include Alex Christian as Doody, Corinna Powlesland as easily shockable school teacher Miss Lynch and Cristian Zaccarini as Sonny beside Alishia-Marie Blake (Cha Cha), Thea Bunting (Patty Simcox), Kevin O’Dwyer (Chad), Laura-Jane Fenney (Maggie Sue), Elliot Gooch (Ernie), Dom Hutcheson (Mickey), Haroun Al-Jeddal (Julio), Kalisha Johnson (Melody), Hannah-Faith Marram (Cynthia), Matt Trevorrow (Eugene) and Jacob Young (Logan).
All the songs are beautifully delivered, especially Danny's solo How Big I'm Gonna Be and Sandy's Hopelessly Devoted while the whole company reprise We Go Together ahead of the final Megamix which had the packed audience singing along and up on its feet.
Top West End choreographer Arlene Phillips certainly had her hands full with all the dance routines in what is a high energy show while the seven-piece band, under musical director Dan Glover, were brilliant and the levels just right so as not to drown out the vocals, which has happened at some shows in the past.
In the end, Grease may not be the last word – but I reckon it comes pretty close.
* Grease runs at Milton Keynes Theatre until Saturday August 28. Call 0844 871 7652 or visit www.atgtickets.com/MiltonKeynes to book.