Plot holes won't stop the hopelessly devoted
It’s the word; it’s got groove, it’s got meaning, but is it any good? In a word, yes. In more than one, yes and no.
Grease is a problematic musical to see staged – in exactly the same way as Cabaret but with fewer serious repercussions. The original stage show got overhauled and improved in the process of becoming a universally loved movie; iconic songs were added and plotlines beefed up – so much so that any straight rendition of the original material is bound to feel thin and simplistic. What is Cabaret without Mein Herr or Maybe This Time? And what is Grease without Grease is the Word, or Hopelessly Devoted to You?
This remount of the hugely successful production that toured earlier this year has re-opened at the Regent, and it should be congratulated for feeling simultaneously like a well-oiled machine and a fresh new rendition. The ensemble seemed energised and utterly relaxed, something that only ever comes from strong direction [David Gilmore] and choreography [Arlene Phillips], and plenty of time and effort.
That said, the show itself is very cobbled together, often coming off as a patchwork of references to the film. The early scenes in particular are almost word for word the same. Even Rob Mills’s Danny laughs like John Travolta. It’s true that we wouldn’t even be watching a stage production of Grease if the film hadn’t entered the pop cultural pantheon, but such slavish imitation come across as parasitic.
The plot is so light it risks evaporation, but audiences don’t approach a show like this expecting Tolstoy. Sandy [Gretel Scarlett] and Danny [Rob Mills] come back from their Summer love to discover they are attending the same high school. Danny’s a jerk, Sandy’s a prude, but with a bit of understanding and some very tight pants, all works out in the end thanks to a lot of “rama dama ding dong” and a few “yippiti boom de booms”.
The cruddy sexual politics of the piece owe more to its ’70s genesis than its ’50s setting, but audiences are presumably encouraged to leave their feminism behind along with their brains in order to enjoy this. And enjoyable it is, from the buzzing physical energy of the youngsters to the outrageous high camp of the oldies. Todd McKenny virtually flies in and runs off with the whole show as Teen Angel, and John Paul Young is fun as Johnny Casino.
Some of the casting feels slightly off. Lucy Maunder is normally terrific, but her Rizzo is so downbeat it comes across as depressive. Her solo song is ruined by the senseless decision to include Sandy as a witness to her private grief. Bert Newton is clearly only present to lend his name to the cast, and often looks lost on stage.
The set [Terry Parsons] is flashy and functional, and the costumes [Andreane Neofitou] are spot on, down to the slicked brilliantine wigs. Scarlett and Mills make a likeable pair of leads, and the dancing – especially the spectacular end to Act 1 as the ensemble perform We Go Together on the bleaches – is often breathtakingly good. It’s a pretty infectious confection, and at this time of the year there’s nothing wrong with that.