Tom Parker as Danny and Danielle Hope as Sandy Pictures: Paul Coltas


Birmingham Hippodrome


Grease is one of those musicals that defines an era. A few bars of You're the One That I Want and, those of a certain age, are back in the summer of ’78 when the film hit our screens.

And the show is packed with music that takes those with a more mature certain age back even further to the ‘50s and the blossoming of rock ’n’ roll. Two trips down memory lane for the price of one.

And in truth it is the music which sells this revival of the 1993 West End production with well-known songs such as Summer Nights, Greased Lighnin’ and rock ballads such as Hopelessly Devoted to You and It’s Raining on Prom Night.

From the opening, which introduced the fine seven-piece band under musical director Griff Johnson – and his fan - perched on a platform high at the back of the stage, you knew the audience were up for it when you could hear them joining in in the overture and the opening song Sandy.

They were there to enjoy themselves come what may, and that is what this show is all about, entertainment. It is colourful, pacey, fun and packed with tuneful nostalgia as Danny and Sandy arrive for a new school year at Rydell High  in 1959.

Pop star Tom Parker from The Wanted, in his first theatre role, gives us a likeable Danny Zuko, but in truth Parker’s Danny needs a lot more than likeability if he is to carry this musical.

He is supposed to be the leader of the T-Birds, a teen, leather jacketed working class gang of greasers at the school, a boy who spells danger with the good looks and roguish charm that teen girls dream about – and their mothers have nightmares about. This Danny needs a lot more of the swagger and bravado we saw from John Travolta in the role in the 1978 film – a role The Fonz, Henry Winkler, had already turned down remember, as he didn’t want to be typecast.

Danielle Hope, winner of BBC’s Over the Rainbow, is a pleasant enough Sandy with a lovely voice on sad songs such as It’s Raining on Prom Night and Look at Me, I’m Sandra Dee where we finally had some emotion in her voice.


The T-Birds

Her quiet, demure, slightly boring personality as Sandra Dumbrowski  helps create the required shock at seeing her transformation to blonde bombshell Sandy.

The opposite to Sandra Dee is Rizzo, leader of The Pink Ladies, the girl’s gang, a lady well able to look after herself and with not so much a chip as a bag of spuds on her shoulder most of the time. Louisa Lytton, once of EastEnders and The Bill, gives us a hard, emotional Rizzo, giving her character more flesh than most, such that we feel for her when she fears she is pregnant.

All the angst and emotion she shows in her acting transfers convincingly to the bittersweet ballad There are Worse Things I Could Do which is one of the musical highlights along with Greased Lightnin’ from Tom Senior’s Kenickie.

He has a look of Gene Vincent and sings it like an authentic ‘50s rock ‘n‘ roll track. Senior’s Kenickie has that laid back arrogance of youth about him, slicked back hair, no doubt with a DA, and he is being oh, so cool.

There is Roger, played by Anthony Hughes, the rather dim greaser with a penchant for mooning and his girlfriend, a nicely paced comic performance from Rosanna Harris as beauty school drop out Jan, and then there is the somewhat crude, one track minded, hormone fuelled Sonny, played by Michael Cortex, and girlfriend, Marty, played by Lauren Atkins, who wears her sexuality like badge of honour.

Then there is Doody, played by Ryan Keenan, who displays a fine singing voice, the youngest of the T-Birds who finally, eventually and painfully slowly plucks up the courage to invite Frenchy, played by Rhiannon Chesterman, who can manage a piercing scream, out on a date.

Pink Ladies

The Pink Ladies

Along the way we have been through the gamut of teen life with the threat of gang fights, peer pressure, teen pregnancy, sexual awakening, drop outs, girls, boys and along the way things that might seem out of place in 2017, some 46 years after Danny first strutted his stuff in the original gritty Chicago première, such as the modest Sandra feeling she has to dress like, dare we say it, a slut, to get the one that she wants. And who said romance was dead.

But launch into You're the One That I Want though as a finale, and who cares about the social and sexual implications of Sandy’s transformation – just get on with the song.

There is a Cameo, with a capital C, appearance of Jimmy Osmond as the Teen Angel. Now 54 Jimmy is a showman, milking the part for all it is worth and more, filling the stage with infectious fun in his silver suit and displaying a still fine singing voice creating a show within a show with Beauty School Dropout. He looked to be enjoying every minute and the audience loved him.

Callum Evans adds some humour as Eugene, the school’s resident nerd who lets rip with some gymnastics and fine dance moves in the finale, and when it comes to dance moves Natasha Mould was a lovely mover as the sexually charged Cha Cha at the school prom, shining like a beacon in her dance with Danny.

There was good support as well from the ensemble along with Ailsa Davidson as Mrs Lynch and Jason Capewell as fast talking WAXX DJ Vince who leads the keep up if you can Born to Hand Jive.

Director David Gilmore has kept up a cracking pace on a simple, clever set from Terry Parsons with Mark Henderson’s lighting helping emphasise characters in scenes. A mention too for Andreane Neofitou’s costumes, there are 140 costume changes incidentally, which are full of colour and ‘50’s fashion allied to some authentic hairstyles.

And it is all wrapped up with choreography which is always interesting, without being too challenging, from Arlene Phillips.

The production gets by with no real character development, we never get much beyond two dimensional, so there is little emotional attachment but there is nothing to dislike and, as we said at the start, it is the music and nostalgia that sells this show, hence you could hear murmurs of people quietly joining in with pretty well every song.

So you can sit back, relax, drift along and be entertained by a thoroughly enjoyable show. To 03-06-17

Roger Clarke


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