Grease - Musical ☆☆☆☆4
Showing from - Wednesday, June 1, 2016 through till Sunday, June 5, 2016
Theatre Royal - Nottingham
Sheridan Halton | Wednesday, June 1, 2016
The musical Grease needs little introduction owing to its iconic status amongst the stage and screen musicals of the last 40 years.
Since its first outing in 1971 followed by its Broadway premiere the following year it has proved to be an enduringly popular musical, taking the title of the longest running Broadway musical by the time the original Broadway run ended in 1980. With bravado a-plenty and hormones a-jangling the T-Birds made a nice male ensemble with some very strong vocalsMore recently the show sparked reality TV star searches in both the USA and UK to find new stars to play the roles of Danny and Sandy showing that the obsession for this classic tale of teenage romance, adolescent drama and rock and roll is universally enduring to countless new generations of musical fans. Add to this the iconic film adaptation in 1978 starring John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John and this musical could prove a very daunting task for a company to tackle, striving for a fresh outlook and originality while trying not to lose any of the original charm, however Carlton Operatic Society have proved once again that they are certainly up to this task.
Thought and Detail
Even before the curtain rises on this show, the mood is already nicely set by the radio DJ Vince Fontaine playing songs of the era to the audience throughout the theatre (even in the toilets) interspersed with his banter which features some nice little references if you get chance to listen (Calvin Klein from ‘Hill Valley’ ringing any bells with any Back to The Future fans out there??) Some nice thought and detail that go in to such extras really add to the whole experience of the evening. Add to this a ‘turn off mobile phones’ announcement from Rydell High’s own principle Miss Lynch and also the excellent programme designed in the style of a 1959 school year book, complete with teenage photos of the company, and the audience are beautifully primed and ready to be immersed into the world of fast cars, hair gel, first cigarettes, raging hormones, cheerleaders and leather jackets that is Grease.
We meet our two main groups of supporting characters the T-Birds and the Pink Ladies during the opening sequence with ‘Grease Is The Word’ in which they sing about their rebellious angst riddled teenage lives. Next enter the central characters of Danny and Sandy who following a holiday romance now unexpectedly find themselves attending the same school. The warm fuzzy feelings are all still there but now they have other issues such as Danny trying to maintain his ‘cool guy’ image with his peers the T-Birds and Sandy trying to find acceptance amongst a new group of would be friends in the Pink Ladies. Unfortunately this does not help the course of true love to run smoothly.
The iconic roles of Danny and Sandy were both well played by Mark Coffey-Bainbridge and Catherine Cunningham respectively. They particularly shone in their individual numbers with Mark singing the number ‘Sandy’ with ease and swagger and Catherine giving an especially touching performance of the lovesick favourite ‘Hopelessly Devoted’.
With bravado a-plenty and hormones a-jangling the T-Birds made a nice male ensemble with some very strong vocals in the individual numbers such as ‘Mooning’ executed with pleasing comedy by Liam Hall as Roger and ‘Those Magic Changes’ performed impressively by Patrick McChrystal as Doody and of course the iconic number ‘Greased Lightning’ performed with great energy and attack by Sam Hutchinson as Kenickie and the T-Birds together with members of the ensemble. Mention must also go to Paice Lees who played Sonny with great bravado while also managing to pull out some of the real subtleties of the role.
Equally, the self-assured queens of Rydell High, the Pink Ladies, had moments to shine in individual numbers as well. Beautiful vocals were demonstrated by Abby Wells in the number ‘Freddy My Love’ and Aston Fisher brought out some lovely comic moments in her portrayal of food-loving Jan making an endearing pairing with Roger in the number ‘Mooning’. Sarah Millington played the lovable and ditzy Frenchy with real class and humour giving some great reactions in the ‘Beauty School Dropout’ number. A real stand out performance however was given by Judie Matthews as Rizzo with both her numbers ‘Look At Me, I’m Sandra Dee’ and ‘There Are Worse Things I Could Do’ being real highlights of Act 1 and 2 respectively. No less impressive was her portrayal of the character of Rizzo throughout the show which was utterly convincing and consistent. An extra nod to both her and Sam as Kenickie, for giving a stomach churningly accurate reminder of the horror that is teenagers ‘making-out’ in public, which they attacked with real gusto on the picnic table during the ‘Mooning’ number (brilliant and funny but equally… yuck!!)
In addition to the main groups, there were also some nice supporting roles such as Patty Simcox with her irrepressible yet unrequited affections for Danny played by Amy Rogers-Gee and the loveable geek Eugene who seems forever oblivious of his status as an object of ridicule by the T-Birds, played adorably by James Murray. The school Principle Miss Lynch was played with suitable bluster and authority by Michelle Smith, while Matt Wesson gave a really charismatic and vocally proficient performance as the Teen Angel – a real crowd pleaser and rightly so. Graham Ward gave a slick performance as Johnny Casino and Ross Lowe shone through with some great comedy and smoother than smooth one-liners as Vince Fontaine, taking the high school dance scenes to another level.
Immediately impressive from the outset in this show was the music from both the cast and the orchestra under the direction of Chris Rees. The opening harmonies of the cast in ‘We Go Together’ were very well controlled and executed and the company continued to impress throughout, right through to the rather remarkable finale ‘mash-up’ of songs which was handled with great dexterity by orchestra and cast alike.
Credit must go to Director Amanda Hall and Choreographer Rachel Rees, and their assistant Jessica Royce for some excellent staging and manouvering of the company throughout the show.
Born to Hand Jive
The well-executed choreography was enhanced by some nice use of the different levels that were made possible by the simple yet effective stage design, particularly in the number ‘Summer Nights’ which was a real delight to watch. There were some nice shifts in pacing which helped to keep the show bouncing along nicely and in particular the handling of the transition from the frenetic ‘Born to Hand Jive’ number in Act 2 into the beautiful stillness of ‘Hopelessly Devoted’ was very effective bringing even more poignancy to this number. The lighting was used particularly well in this number and equally so in ‘Greased Lightning’.
The impressive lighting available at the theatre was certainly used to good effect throughout the show.
Mention must also go to some slick stage management led by Vicky Johnson and supported ably by the stage crew and properties team. The staging appeared deceptively simple and fresh however there was plenty of work between the scenes including the tricky manuovering of the infamous car ‘Greased Lightning’.
Overall this was a thoroughly enjoyable evening of entertainment that is certain to impress the legions of Grease fans out there as well as delight audiences who are new to this show. The obvious enjoyment of the performers on stage was infectious, leaving the audience grinning from ear to ear as they left the theatre.
Following their move from the Nottingham Playhouse in 2014 Carlton Operatic Society now appear well established and thoroughly at home on the splendid stage of the Nottingham Theatre Royal and their next production here of West Side Story in 2017 will be eagerly anticipated.
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