greased lightnin


The Alexandra Theatre, Birmingham


At the time of writing, the musical Grease is just a couple of months shy of its 50th birthday. Making its first appearance way, way back in 1971 on the stage, it was the film version in 1978 that rocketed this globally successfully musical, into its now iconic status.

It’s doubtful if such a project would ever be made in todays over sensitive world, as even a classic song like Grease Lightning contains lyrics that would be deemed inappropriate by someone somewhere. In fact it’s a wonder it’s not been cancelled already, but thankfully here it is in all its gyrating, hand jiving glory.

What strikes you about this current production is that this very young cast would probably have a hard time remembering the 80s, let alone the 1950s, which is the era in which this summer loving story is set. Even the productions leading attraction Peter Andre was not born till two years after the film was released. But none of these time machine facts mattered to the great cast and the highly engaged and appreciative audience.

Mr Andre played a very subdued, but relevant part in the affair, firstly as Vince Fontaine and then the Teen Angel. His adoring fans certainly appreciated his supporting presence, and no doubt wished he was more in view according to the screams and whoops that went up when he finally took centre stage. However he never looked out of place and had a great deal of fun with his role.

Peter Andre

Peter Andre as Vince Fontaine

Danny Zuko was played by Dan Partridge and although he could not muster the sheer sleazy arrogance of John Travolta’s take on the part, he delivered a clean cut and highly enjoyable performance.

Ellie Kingdon plays Sandy, the sweet girl who finally turns on the sex appeal in the final scene. Miss Kingdon has a superb singing voice and even when an audience member stole one of her lines ahead of her in a silent pause, creating a huge wave of laughter, she never broke her professionalism or focus.

Paul French was excellent as Kenickie and with several other scenes changes, additional songs and original movie songs being handed to other cast members, it was he who got to sing Grease Lightning. Great support too came from Maeve Byrne in her wildly cartoonish portrayal as Jan with Tedai Rhino lending her soulful voice to the role of Rizzo.

This really is a polished and well-designed show. Director Nikolai Foster has called upon Arlene Philips to create some superb chorography, Colin Richmond is responsible for a very adaptable and effective set, and Douglas O’Connell whose set projection worked flawlessly in effecting the moods of every scene. It’s also great to have a live band and it made a difference to the energy and cohesion of the entire production. This was under the directorship of Dan Glover and the sound quality was excellent under the guidance of Tom Marshall.

It remains to be seen how long this era of on screen musicals can last as touring stage productions and remain in popularity. It’s impossible to think of any modern equivalents to replace them especially where the audience know every word of every song. Hopefully future generations will have their own, but for this one, then Grease definitely is the word. Greased Lightnin' will be parked at the Alex to 06-11-21.

Jeff Grant


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