Reviewed by Siobhan Bridgwater
Last night (5 June 2017) the Bristol Hippodrome played host to the stage production of Grease, directed by David Gilmore and touring with Tom Parker from The Wanted, Louisa Lytton from EastEnders and Strictly Come Dancing and Over the Rainbow winner, Danielle Hope.
Based on the smash hit movie from 1979 which blasted John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John into the musical history books, Grease is the original firecracker of American high school fun, set in the fifties, with the leather-clad T Birds strutting alongside the sassy Pink Ladies, and the rest of the Rydell High gang, as the seniors return for their final year.
The stage looks fantastic as we take our seats, awash with the red neon strip lighting from the wings and centre stage, hangs a huge bright Grease sign suspended from the rafters. With much excitement, the show opens as a wonderful band is revealed, on a raised platform, at the back of the stage. Their full-on enthusiasm is totally infectious as they delight us with a taster of what is to come: blasting out an overture of some of the infamous show tunes in quick succession. We know what we are here to see and it is great to hear a few bars from the likes of You’re The One That I Want, Grease Is The Word, Summer Nights, Hopelessly Devoted to You, Sandy and Greased Lightnin’ as we wait for the cast to appear.
The opening number which sets the scene as the students return from summer break, is tremendous and gets the show off to a cracking start. Act One surges ahead at a ferocious pace as the cast delights and enthrals us again and again with toe-tapping, fun-filled humour and pure entertainment. Numerous stunning set and costumes changes added colour, style and vibrancy to the evening and there are some additional songs written by Barry Gibb, John Farrar, Louis St Louis and Scott Simon, sprinkled in amongst the old favourites. Arlene Phillips’s musical staging and choreography is tight and faultless and the energy on stage is impressive.
Danielle Hope as Sandra Dee, the shy new girl in school, is wonderful, giving a strong and steady performance but her character needed to be more flushed with the thrill and giddiness of new love. She did lack zing and was more librarian and lacklustre at times. And she has a tendency to over-sing the endings of some of her solos, with an almost operatic flourish, which sounds a bit odd. Tom Parker does a sterling job, working hard to carry off the swagger and arrogance of Danny Zuko but I am not sure he fully has the stage presence, or natural dancing ability, to carry off such a demanding role yet. John Travolta’s boots appear very hard to fill. Louisa Lytton gets the hard-nosed Rizzo character to a tee and is a delight to watch despite appearing to get surprisingly rooted to the stage during her rendition of There Are Worst Things I Can Do. Hats off to Tom Senior (Kenickie), Rhiannon Chesterman (Frenchy), Callum Evans (Eugene) and Natasha Mould (Cha Cha) who all manage to keep a weaker Act Two buoyant and flowing toward the final scene. A charismatic Jimmy Osmond belts out Beauty School Dropout, with much-needed old school expertise, as the silver-suited Teen Angel and threatens to bring the house down with his cameo performance during the second half.
The show has humour in spades and the band and cast are hugely dynamic. However, pure electric chemistry is such an essential ingredient in this show and at times it was sadly lacking between its main leads. Danielle Hope sang her heart out throughout the evening but, like Tom Parker, appears to get a little overshadowed, during some scenes, in amongst a stage full of such talented and seasoned performers.
It was a fun, enjoyable night but fell slightly short of high expectations in parts. It is a pity that there were so many sexual gestures and one finger salutes during the evening which makes it unsuitable viewing for very young children as this is such great family entertainment.
And, by altering the ending so that only Sandy changes her image, from innocent purity to hot raunchiness for You’re The One That I Want, led to some interesting comments overheard about its moral message amongst today’s fresh audience members as we poured out on to the street after the curtain fell.
I left with a strong desire to go home and re-watch the much-loved original film.
Tickets cost from £15 to £52.50 (plus £4 transaction fee).
Grease the musical is at the Bristol Hippodrome from 5-10 June 2017, for more information or to book tickets visit www.atgtickets.com/bristol or call the box office on 0844 871 3012.
Bristol Hippodrome, St Augustine’s Parade, Bristol, BS1 4UZ | 0844 871 3012