Review: Grease at the Liverpool Empire ****
It’s 50 years since Grease first hit the stage, and more than four decades since John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John took the big screen by storm.
But if the original kids at Rydell High are all now drawing their pensions, the show itself - like Peter Pan - remains forever young.
And if the audience reaction to this fizzing new touring production is anything to go by, it still has plenty of hopelessly devoted fans to carry it through another half-century of T-birds, Pink Ladies and Greased Lightning.
I say T-Birds, but this current touring show – billed as the first new production in 25 years – reinstates writers Jim Jacobs’ and Warren Casey’s original (and rather more unwieldy) Burger Palace Boys moniker to the young leather jacket-clad gang.
It’s one of several differences devotees of the film might notice, along with songs that never made the movie version. And in fact, even these original numbers have been rejigged and repositioned over the many years of revivals.
Some might suggest, rather like with the transition of The Sound of Music from stage to screen, that there’s a reason some numbers (like Tattoo Song and How Big I’m Gonna Be for example) didn’t win over filmmakers.
But the central plot of torrid teen relationships remains, and under Nikolai Foster’s direction – and with some crack choreography from Arelene Phillips – this is a show which is bright, tight and a whole lot of fun.
Producers have drawn together a young cast (Ellie Kingdon, playing Sandy, is making her professional stage debut) and that helps give the high school setting and teen angst a certain authenticity.
Above: Peter Andre and the Grease cast. Top: Greased Lightning. Photos by Sean Ebsworth Barnes
One of the few exceptions is Peter Andre, the production’s star name, who has an absolute ball camping it up as the smooth-talking radio jock Vince Fontaine and his alter ego Teen Angel.
Descending from his circular studio eyrie, and to screams and whistles from the audience, he prowls his way around the Rydell High gym Halloween hop in leopard print jacket, doing the splits (sort of) and gyrating his hips in Elvis homage.
Meanwhile the Empire stewards run hither and thither in the auditorium, angrily waving torches at people trying to capture the moments on camera phone. Which is both amusing and frustrating in equal measure.
The large ensemble performs the show’s big numbers with real zest and some impressively powerful vocals, particularly in We Go Together, Greased Lightning and Summer Nights, although You’re the One That I Want – which takes place in the eponymous burger bar – feels a little underplayed and sanitised.
The cast of Grease. Photo by Sean Ebsworth Barnes
Dan Partridge fights the spectre of Travolta to make Danny Zuko his own creation, a mixture of cocksure posing and hidden insecurity (and whose plaintive drive-in rendition of Sandy is accompanied by the audience audibly singing along), while Kingdon seizes her chance in the spotlight with a powerful second half performance of Hopelessly Devoted to You.
If I’m being picky, I’d like to see a bit more physical attraction and sexual tension between them on the stage.
But all in all, this Grease looks great (the action unfolding on Colin Richmond’s versatile set), it sounds great – the cast supported by a fabulous band under Dan Glover’s musical direction, and it absolutely delivers on the promise of a great night out.
A wop bop a loo-bop, a wop bam boo.