Grease: 'High energy fun but I'm not hopelessly devoted'
- Credit: Manuel Harlan
The phenomenon that is Grease was an exercise in nostalgia by people in the '70s looking back on their youth.
American high school tropes of jocks, squares and greasers feel overfamiliar today, as for my 80s generation do Jim Jacobs and Warren Casey's songs, which dominated the charts after the 1978 film.
The 1971 original is grittier and more narratively baggy than the Travolta/Newton-John offering and inexplicably this first West End run for 29 years has chosen to ditch its streamlined storytelling to restore something less sugary but altogether messier.
Danny Zuko (Dan Partridge, very good) is leader of a working class hormone-charged gang, busy wasting their potential while brushing up against the law and flunking school.
Girl gang The Pink Ladies are also navigating ambitions, unwanted pregnancy and in the case of Olivia Moore's uptight Sandy, whether to break convention and enjoy their teenage rebellion. That this involves donning leather pants and a boob tube is testimony to Grease's regressive gender messaging, but although Moore lacks Partridge's energy and charisma, she imbues boring, underwritten Sandy with determination and pluck.
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She disappears for much of a show that's full of plot and character holes but Partridge has better luck capturing Danny's split loyalty to his girl, his mates and himself. If director Nikolai Foster isn't the man for subtlety or dramaturgy, he and choreographer Arlene Phillips do lay on knock out set pieces, courtesy of their untried but energetic cast.
Ultimately it's about the songs and Greased Lightning explodes with spinning car, showers of sparks, and crotch grabbing; the Hand Jive is a stupendous dance hall dance off, and We Go Together a foot stomping anthem to soon-to-vanish youth.
Peter Andre - unwittingly the man of the moment - gamely sends himself up as DJ Vince Fontaine, and while he's no Frankie Valli in enunciation, he's in fine voice as a pink suited be-winged Teen Angel to Eloise Davies' stand-out "Beauty School Dropout" Frenchie.
Sandy's transformation and You're The One That I Want are thrown away but a curtain call medley makes up for the limp ending.
Until October 29. Tickets at www.greasemusical.co.uk/