**** 4 Stars
“Grease is, was and always will be the word!”
It’s hard to believe that its 50 years since Grease took to the stage of a basement in Chicago, the audience that night in 1971 sat on crates having paid three dollars for the privilege. That production was gritty capturing the essence of the coming-of-age tale.
The 1978 Robert Stigwood movie that shot Olivia Newton John and John Travolta to fame turned the gritty tale into California dreams and subsequent stage productions capitalized on that success by embracing the pink neon bubble gum romance the film portrayed thus masking what was great about the stage original, it felt like maybe Grease as its meant to be seen was consigned to history.
That’s until the simply sublime Curve Leicester and Director Nikolai Foster have brought this simply astounding new production to the stage and what a treat of a musical it is. Let’s be clear from the off, this is a return to the original roots of the show, the T birds are gone and returned to the Burger Palace Boys. The pink ladies only appear fleetingly towards the end of the performance and the bubble gum pink neon schmaltz of teen romance is once again the journey of adolescence and coming of age in 1959 Chicago.
From the off this is a stellar cast of fresh talent with the entire ensemble working a seem less company to the point that the “leads” blend in fully. Those leads do deserve special praise, taking the role of Sandy Dumbrowki is Ellie Kingdon who delivers an emotionally strong take in both characterisation and vocals and truly shatters the “dumb blonde” feel of old Sandy’s and makes the character truly human. Playing Danny Zuko and head of the Burger Palace boys is Dan Partridge. Partridge brings a raw vulnerability to the part that totally changes the perception of a once see-through character and it’s wonderful to view.
Special mention must also go to Tendai Rinomhota as Betty Rizzo who delivers a big voice and depth to Rizzo who is often played as a bitch but in reality, hides a heart that just wants to be loved. The production does feature pop star Peter Andre as Vince Fontaine and Teen Angel, as Vince its easy money of Andre who spends the bulk of the time perched by his DJ booth high above the stage coming off somewhat underused. However as Teen angel he delivers a scene stealing moment with he and the company dripping in silver sparkles a plenty.
Colin Richmond’s Scenic and Costume design taps into 50’s americana and memorabilia is peppered throughout the sets, thankfully the pink neon lighting is removed and instead Ben Cracknell lighting design delivers a palate of colours for every emotion especially in the gritter moments. Tom Marshall’s Sound design works well, although there were a few sound blips on press night which hopefully should smooth out as the run progresses. The production is boosted by Douglas O’Connell projection design which even recreates the original beach opening of the show.
Fosters direction is spot on, blending the grit in the drama along with the light and comedy that is loved about the show. Arlene Fosters fun and on point Choreography is executed with passion by the entire cast and holding the whole thing together is Musical Director Dan Glover and an awesome 8 piece band in the pit.
Grease is loved by millions, and the 1978 film is cherished and the films shadow loomed large over the 40 years of stage productions that have followed so it’s wonderful to see the show returned to its original glory and this production proves without a shadow of a doubt that Grease is, was and always will be the word!
The Curve Presents, Grease the Musical, Festival Theatre Edinburgh, runs until Saturday 2nd October, UK tour continues for tickets go to: https://www.capitaltheatres.com/whats-on/grease