Reviewed by Demi Franks
Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
“If you’re having fun then you’re Number one!” proclaims a certain Mr. Peter Andre as Vince Fontaine to a packed out Manchester Opera House – and boy he wasn’t wrong!
This Tuesday evening Quay Street was buzzing with excitement and that wasn’t just because it had actually managed to stop raining for an hour, but probably to do with the fact that yes it’s still an absolute treat to have live theatre return to the heart of the city. Amongst the many excitable attendees queuing to take their seats were multiple sets of Manchester’s own Pink Ladies, whom will have waited patiently for over a year to see this latest production.
Although now synonymous with the Travolta/Newton-John illustrious partnership, it’s easy to forget Grease the movie actually succeeded the theatrical production’s New York debut by six years. However, the story of the Pink Ladies and the Burger Palace Boys (the original T-Birds) and their subsequent trials and tribulations as they make the painstaking journey from adolescence to adulthood, still lies at the heart of this cult classic.
Nikolai Foster’s production, originally planned for 2020, but halted due to the Covid pandemic, clearly pays homage to the production’s original predecessors. Foster does a superb job at bringing together all the elements to make this a great comeback for the latest UK touring production.
The production is a visual delight, the characters look every bit the part; the jeans, the jackets and the ‘Grease-y’ hair styles are out in full force. All of which is smoothly complimented by Richmond’s clever and versatile set design, which centres around a 1950’s school gym, manoeuvring and evolving throughout, becoming the school hall, canteen, the local diner, the girls’ bedroom etc. accordingly.
Equally, it’s pure joy to watch Arlene Phillips’ Choreography, which again brilliantly honours the original era, but also packs a little extra punch with some modern elements sprinkled in, providing us with some stand-out ‘WOW’ ensemble moments, including the dance break of both ‘Greased Lightning’ and ‘We Go Together.’
Musically the production was faultless; beautifully arranged by Travis and directed by Glover to get the best out of both the band and the vocal harmonies. It’s easy to forget amongst the classic sing-along smash-hits that there are some delightfully stunning little melodies gifted within the score. Doody’s (Alex Christian) rendition of ‘Those Magic Changes’ produced a beautifully sweet moment, sensitively crafted and wonderfully performed.
Leading the cast, Dan Partridge excellently personifies Danny Zuko with the poise and self-assurance needed, together with Ellie Kingdon (alternate Sandy) whom whilst making her professional debut on this production, stepped in as Sandy for tonight’s performance with hours to spare as part of a couple of last minute cast changes, simultaneously managing to deliver one of the most powerful Hopelessly Devoted To You’s I have ever witnessed, fully deserving the rapturous applause she received at the end of the number.
The cast as a whole are bright, exuberant and energetic, they constantly drive the show forward with confidence and charisma, most certainly breathing fresh life into this old classic. It is utterly refreshing watching this dynamic and vibrant cast doing their thing! Whom, apart from Andre, who did in fact deliver a rather good all-round charming performance once he came down from his raised DJ booth and onto the stage in Act 2, mainly consists of a relatively unknown, fresh, young group of thriving triple threat musical theatre actors.
Although special mention has to go to the ‘scene-stealing’ Jan and Roger (played by Byrne and Barnett respectively), both of which embody these two hilariously-sweet characters so wonderfully.
At times this production veers slightly away from the recognisable ground that die-hard Grease fanatics would be expecting, with a few chop and changes along the way and the inclusion of some lesser known musical numbers. However at the centre of this production remains the same familiar, loveable, funny, warming story of the Rydell High class of 1959.
Forget your Pumpkin Spiced Lattes…this is certainly not only the one that you want, but the one that you need to lift your spirits and give you that warm fuzzy feeling this Autumn.
Grease runs at the Opera House Manchester until 23rd October tickets available here.