Grease continues at the Palace Theatre, Manchester until 25 March and then tours until 31 December.
Star rating: two stars ★ ★ ✩ ✩ ✩
There are, of course, two versions of Grease. Firstly there’s Jim Jacobs and Warren Casey’s down and dirty original stage production, a paean to the oily quiffed, leather jacketed rock’n’roll teen culture of the late 1950s that debuted in a Chicago nightclub in 1971 before transferring to Broadway for a then record-breaking run that ended in 1980.
Then, in 1978, came the blockbuster movie, which transplanted the action from the gritty streets of Chicago to the sunnier climes of California, sanitising some of the raunchier aspects along the way.
Additional songs from the likes of Barry Gibb, John Farrar and Louis St Louis and Scott Simon added disco and 1970s pop elements to the pure doo-wop sounds and star wattage in the form of leads John Travolta and Olivia Newton John.
It was a concoction that worked perfectly, resulting in the highest grossing movie musical in film history and, in the decades since, turned Grease into a genuine pop culture phenomenon, spawning a thousand Pink Lady-themed hen nights and – via the ubiquitous Grease Megamix – the soundtrack to countless British wedding receptions and karaoke sessions.
Subsequent revivals in the 1990s and beyond reconfigured the stage show to more closely resemble the movie that fans were so familiar with.
Last year, Leicester’s Curve Theatre production hewed much closer to the unvarnished original – to much acclaim – but this touring version of the 2008 revival from producers Paul Nicholas, Robert Stigwood and David Ian sticks rigidly to that remixed 90s template.
The results can be a bit jarring, as it retains some of the songs that – in some cases, quite rightly – didn’t make the transition from stage to screen but transplants whole sequences and numbers from the movie.
When the songs in question are as catchy and iconic as ‘You’re the One That I Want’ or Gibb’s glorious brass-soaked title song – arranged and orchestrated flawlessly by Mike Dixon, Larry Wilcox and Chris Egan and performed with panache by musical director Griff Johnson’s six-piece onstage band – there’s no problem, but overall it makes for a slightly disjointed affair.
Save for the brilliantly choreographed hand-jiving of ensemble highlight ‘We Go Together’ – a number that you’d really have to have a tin ear to miss the mark with – director David Gilmore’s production never really finds its rhythm. And, despite a curtain call medley that includes ‘Greased Lightnin’ and sundry other foot-tappers, crucially the audience is never really moved to dance in the aisles and join the party.
Some of this is down to the casting. Actress Danielle Hope has charm and likeability to spare – and certainly displays the requisite vocal prowess in ‘Hopelessly Devoted to You – but seems oddly miscast as Sandy.
The Wanted’s Tom Parker struggles with some of the higher register vocal gymnastics and lacks the acting chops required for Danny.
With his Austin Powers and Cliff Richard aping antics, Darren Day brings a welcome bit of old school light entertainment pizazz as Teen Angel/Vince, but former EastEnder Louisa Lytton lacks the chutzpah and necessary vocal range for Rizzo.
Unusually then, it is left to the supporting cast to really shine. Rhiannon Chesterman, Lauren Atkins and Rosanna Harris look and sound pitch perfect as the Pink Ladies, while Gabriella Williams is totally engaging as the high-achieving Patty.
As for the boys, Ryan Heenan and Oliver Jacobson provide more than just comic relief as the T-Birds’ lovably hapless fall guys Doody and Roger.