Grease is the word, is not the word that you heard. An admirable performance with plenty of charm, however the lack of microphones for the principals and lacklustre use of the stage left this production not hitting the heady heights the cast can clearly reach.
Grease, set in 1950s America, follows the original teenagers through their graduation year at Rydell High. Showstoppers had their work cut out from the get-go as audiences will have high expectations for such an established musical and handing it to a company of performers all new to the society was a daring move.
That said – the cast were excellent, all showing great voices with some brilliant stand-out performances from Ben Willcocks (Kenickie), Ellie Fowler (Jan) and Phoebe Judd (Frenchy). Willcocks in particular was a tour-de-force on stage and is a talent to watch out for in the future; call it up-staging or scene stealing, whatever ‘it’ is he certainly has bucket loads of the stuff. Fowler was a wonderfully funny Jan, always drawing the eyes of the audience to her on stage and Judd’s vocally rich accent and expert characterisation showed off her clear acting ability.
The set, which I presume was meant to resemble an impoverished US school, bore more resemblance to a state prison. Perhaps we were watching the incarcerated older versions of the T-Birds and Pink Ladies reminiscing about their past glory days at Rydell High (there’s an idea)? This might explain the somewhat mournful and sombre tone that seemed to permeate through the latter half; however I put that more down to the cast losing their confidence as they battled with an audience unwilling to engage with the comedy aspects of the musical.
It is an unusual thing to blame an audience, and considered a cardinal sin by most within the theatre world; yet the audience only felt unwilling to engage because of the decidedly unprofessional behaviour of the production team sat in the back right of the auditorium. Their consistent whooping, cheering and guffawing alienated the audience, and whilst I was certainly watching Grease, a story of love, gangs, and teenage pregnancy, I could have sworn they were watching High School Musical 2.
The vocals were rich and the large chorus gave powerful renditions; my two favourites from the show being the big punchy ‘Alma Mater Parody’ and ‘We Go Together’ which reverberated around the theatre with an energy rare to find in amateur productions. The leads were let down however by the deluded decision not to use microphones. I would love to be able to praise Honor Saunders’ (Sandy) and Jamie Martin’s (Danny) vocals, but I was unable to hear them over the band. The only soloists who managed to fill the space were Jess Hector (Rizzo) and Daniel N’Guessan-Lopez (Doody), both lucky enough to be close to the pickup microphones situated downstage. They both conveyed emotion far beyond their years in ‘Those Magic Changes’ and ‘There Are Worse Things I Could Do’ and these represented the most touching moments of the night.
Overall Grease was an enjoyable evening of theatre; the cast showed huge talent and potential but the show was limited by poor acoustics and oddly static staging. The larger song numbers will be stuck in my head until Christmas and it was great to see a musical loved by so many performed well on stage by a wonderfully talented cast.