The first new production in 25 years, and with the promise of a return to the gritty, raw, original 1971 production, the odds would seem stacked in favour of this Leicester Curve production of Grease, one of the world’s most beloved musicals. However, spectacularly bad casting, lacklustre energy levels and poor vocals, render what should be a corker of a show, into a two and a half hour yawn-fest.
It’s 1959, Rydell High, and a dozen angst ridden teenagers negotiate the ups and downs of high school life: break ups, make ups, peer pressure and pregnancy scares, with a raft of familiar tunes wrapped around the action (if not in the order that fans of the movie are used too).
Principal among the faults of this production is the casting: Dan Partridge’s Danny Zuko is a non-descript leading man, he lacks any presence, his accent is appalling (something that seems endemic in the cast), and his singing voice even worse, and unforgivably there is absolutely no chemistry with the woefully underused Martha Kirby as Sandy, who manages to elevate proceedings in the few occasions she’s on stage. It is absolutely baffling why she would ever fall in love with this loser in the first place. Louis Gaunt is a charismatic Kenickie who makes his mark (the young actor seems as if he would be a much better fit as Danny). Of note too is Natalie Woods, who has a lovely voice and a nice presence as the body-conscious Jan, less successful are Rhianne-Louise McCaulsky as Rizzo, who looks thoroughly bored throughout and Darren Bennett, who provides an uncomfortable watch as the boob-grabbing old letch Vince Fontaine, the performance smacks of 1970s Benny Hill/Freddy Starr, not memories you’d want to evoke in 2019.
Are we are so far removed and so distanced from the times in which this is set, that it fails to resonate? Is that the main issue? There’s a moment in the cheesy dialogue when after a break up and a make up between Danny and Sandy where her asks her: ‘don’t you want my ring?’ you can almost hear the female audience cry: ‘no thanks I’d rather have a career’. The entire show plays out like a badly disjointed series of unrelated scenes and the lack of drive doesn’t help. On a positive note, Colin Richmond’s gymnasium design is effective, if simplistic and Guy Hoare’s lighting design tonally compliments it – it should be said though, that it’s particularly heavy on the dry ice.
The entire production from start to end lacks impact, there isn’t an ounce of sparkle and the lack of energy and commitment of the cast is astonishing. One could argue that it’s impossible to make Grease boring, but boy does this production succeed in achieving just that.
Runs until 31 August 2019 | Image: Manuel Harlan