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First night: Grease/Liverpool Empire

It's still rock and roll to Heather Smith

Written by . Published on November 10th 2011.


First night: Grease/Liverpool Empire

“She told me we were coming to see West Side Story!”

This howler was met with a response that says it all about the Liverpool Empire.

I’d love it to be true that Rhyd believed
all of the “R” branded girls were crazed
fans of his rather than Rydell cheerleaders,
sadly I don’t think this is the case

A decent proportion of the row behind – mostly women, middle-aged and together in a big group - erupted into one hearty high-pitched cackle, eased into individual conversations and ended with a classic two-way row relay of Wine Gums and toffees. Jets and Sharks, T-Birds and Pink Ladies, pah, big theatre is about the big occasion.

Grease was in fact the word last night and as ubiquitous stage-to-film-to-stage musicals go, they don’t come much bigger, or better.

This particularly lavish West End production (including many a glitzy set, fireworks etc) is something of a homecoming for leading actors Ray Quinn and Carina Gillespie. The handsome young chap Quinn, of Brookie and reality TV fame, plays an extremely likeable Danny Zuko.

Grease-1-243X177
Indeed, his first lines are deemed inaudible amid the wolf whistling “We love you Ray!” teen-screaming section of the audience. Evident popularity aside, his take on the bequiffed too-cool-to-like-a-girl-at-school bad boy is both comfortable and charming. Gillespie nails the totally naff nerd that Sandy is supposed to be, with a pretty decent singing voice to boot.

Danny’s sweet summer romance with Sandy is revived in the somewhat sour environment of Rydell High School where, by total chance, she has turned up as a new student. Fancy that.

Boy-girl cliques ensue and the testosterone-loaded leather-clad T-Birds all share an affinity with someone in the straight-talking, all-smoking Pink Ladies (where Sandy finds herself gloriously misplaced). Can Summer Lovin’ become school lovin’?

The plot resolves its big issues in the same way that a sharp pin effectively pops a balloon. Sandy sluts-up and succinctly declares “To hell with it!” regarding all of her previously built-up virginal angst towards Danny,  the boob-grabbing player.

Meanwhile, tough girl Rizzo (the well-husked Kate Somerset How) overcomes her contentious teen pregnancy bomb by informing father-to-be Kenickie (Ricky Rojas) mid-song “Didn’t you hear? It was a false alarm!” Well, I’m glad we all got over that old chestnut relatively pain free.

Plausible plot idea it aint but, let’s be honest, Grease is about the music and you do get from song to song more than quickly enough.

From the dual perspective of Summer Nights to the brilliantly synchronised We Go Together, this production gets the big numbers spot on. The unbelievably energetic choreography (Arlene Phillips) kept the whole thing moving at a great, watchable pace, even if it was unashamedly smiley musical theatre to the max.

X Factor’s Rhydian Jones added a garish, metallic-suited, star quality to the affair as Teen Angel, too. I’d love it to be true that Rhyd believed all of the “R” branded girls were crazed fans of his rather than Rydell cheerleaders, sadly I don’t think this is the case.

Ultimately, there is just something irresistible about Grease. From the ten-year-old newly kitted out at the merchandise stall to the woman who didn’t even know what show she was seeing, everyone has cock-a-hoop and leaves with a bit of a spring in their step.

*Grease is at the Empire until 19 November

8/10

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Peter Coyle

i wish i had been there…it sounds like something joyous and anarchic...the way the article is…

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Couldn't agree more. This is a super piece. Ken would be proud that not a penny of public money was…

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