Venue: Wolverhampton Grand Theatre

Production Run: Mon 27 Nov - Sat 2 Dec 2017

Performance Reviewed: Mon 27 November (Press Night)

There’s no real secret ingredient, and there shouldn’t really be too much difficulty, in getting the likes of Grease right. It rides into town on a wave of nostalgia as the kind of accessible, pulpy musical many of us grew up on, peppered with memorable tunes that have long since been memorised by ill-advised karaoke jaunts, and fun characters that rarely manage to step out of the shadow of, say, the iconic John Travolta and Olivia Newton John.

No, audiences don’t go to Grease to see a re-invention of the wheel; most just want a faithful simulacra of an old favourite. A live, in-the-flesh return to the Rydell Highs.

Even by that standard, though, this latest touring production fails class. 

Sure, the essential ingredients are all presented and accounted for. Smooth-talking, slick-haired Danny Zuko (The Wanted’s Tom Parker) and his on-off romance with naive sweetheart Sandy (Danielle Hope). Enough spunky supporting characters to fill a locker room with, including the sassy Rizzo (Louisa Lytton) and kooky Jan (Rosanna Harris). Jacobs and Casey’s instantly catchy tunes are here, too, with even a few extra numbers for good stage measure. The car’s there, and looking pretty good, including a rather fun switcheroo when it ‘upgrades’ mid-way through a number. Throw some hyper-energetic Arlene Phillips choreography in to the mix to match the similarly hyperactive light and sound design and you’ve got a done deal, surely?

Not quite.

For as colourful, occasionally-dazzling and high-spirited as Grease may be, it is dragged down by flat central performances and weak vocals that are jimmied awkwardly into the spectacle and noise around them.

To what extent Tom Parker and Louisa Lytton can be deservedly classed as ‘stunt’ casting is open for debate, but their miscasting here is not. It’s not impossible to imagine Parker charting a career for himself on the stage - he has the looks and the moves, but his frequently cringe-inducing characterisation of the show’s lead character is forced, unconvincing and vocally flimsy. Lytton fares worse; her Rizzo lacking any of the character’s dry, sardonic humour, instead coming across as a petulant, unlikeable brat, with the less said about her attempts at ‘Look at Me, I’m Sandra Dee’ and ‘There Are Worse Things I Could Do’ the better.

Tom Senior as Kenickie, meanwhile, sings up a half-decent ‘Greased Lightning’, but is otherwise forgettable, and it’s really left to the supporting cast members - namely Ryan Heenan, Oliver Jacobson and Rosanna Harris - to show the audience what real musical theatre talent looks like. Over the Rainbow winner Danielle Hope intermittently saves proceedings as Sandy, particularly when belting out favourite ‘Hopelessly Devoted To You’ and the high notes of an Act II reprise, but otherwise it’s difficult to not spend the show feeling she’s meant for better than this.

In many ways, the real star of the show is MD Griff Johnson and his band; their realisations of Grease’s collection of songs are full-bodied, vibrant and terrific - in fact, an early high is their megamix overture at the off. It’s just a shame it’s pretty much all downhill from there.

To what extent casual theatregoers will agree with this review is a real curio. Whilst there was unsurprisingly no standing ovation, and more than a handful of disapproving murmurs overheard in the interval, the atmosphere in the auditorium was upbeat, positive and the audience seemingly on-side. For mindless, unpretentious escapism, Grease mostly delivers, but it’s difficult to say it is particularly adept at doing so.

If you’re unfamiliar with the original, not a regular theatregoer, and/or are a fan of any of its leads, then chances are in Grease you’ll find a spot of loud, inoffensive 50's nonsense set to a few vaguely recognisable numbers that you very well may enjoy. 

For everyone else? Well, it’s a disappointment; a noisy, underwhelming revisit to an old favourite with the occasional glimmer of Hope, and even the flashy paint job unable to distract from the weak performances dragging the whole thing down.

It may be a trifle cruel to label it car crash theatre, but this Grease is, at the very least, in need of a serious MOT.


Tickets: 01902 429 212  / Official Website: click