Grease

July 31, 2022 | By More

★★★★☆     The Word

Festival Theatre: Fri 29/Sat 30 July 2022
Review by Thom Dibdin

The Beyond Broadway Experience production of Grease, at the Festival Theatre for three performances only, is as vibrant a staging of the show as you could want.

Which is as you might hope, what with 175 youngsters on the stage, all striving to excel and stand out – while still keeping the chorus coherent. But the wonder here is at the quality they have achieved in only two weeks rehearsal under director Drew Gowland and his team.

The cast of Grease in Rehearsal on the Festival Theatre stage. Pic Capital Theatres Twitter

There is barely a foot out of place or a duff note in this all-singing, all-dancing production which strips the staging back to the minimum. Not that you need it too much, as the songs do the work.

Beyond the massed chorus choreographed by Murray Grant and Sarah Kerr – and it is sometimes hard to see beyond them as they cram the stage in front of MD Simon Hanson’s tight band – the principal cast give strong and generous performances.

For those familiar with the 1978 movie version, it is refreshing to see actors who are the ages of their characters in the roles. These youngsters easily come up to Travolta or Newton-John’s standard, while their youth adds a sense of the peril to its coming-of-age storyline.

Ostensibly this is a love story. Aidan Harland’s Danny Zuko and Charis Stockton’s Sandy Dumbrowski have had a summer fling and are unexpectedly re-united at the final year of school – that’s Rydell High, class of 1959 – to discover they come from very different sides of the tracks.

But that affair is really a vehicle to explore both the 1950s American working class phenomenon of Greasers through the gang that Danny is in, the T-Birds, and the rather more enduring issues of teenage life – notably trying to conform, as Sandy tries to find a way to fit in with the hard-as-nails Pink Ladies.

Danny and the T-Birds. Pic: Beyond Broadway

The title track sets the scene and tone of the whole show – think waves and waves of youngsters filling Scotland’s largest stage with swirls of high kicks and posing moves. But the plot takes off with a cracking Summer Nights when Harland and Stockton set the bar high as each tells their respective gangs their side of the story of their Summer fling.

From then on in, Gowland makes great use of the chorus to provide a backdrop to the principals. For example, Scott Glidden as Doody doesn’t perform Those Magic Changes to his pals, but to himself in a sort dream sequence in which his (imagined and Glidden’s real) talent can shine.

There is a bravura feel to the great Greased Lightening, when Davie Carnie as Kenickie gets to show off his rock’n’roll chops and all the older male performers are put through their dance paces with some particularly well-coordinated split leaps.

The makeup of the piece ensures that most of the main characters get a number to shine in and develop their roles. And even those who don’t have their own song, such as Charlie Geany’s bizarre and nerdy Eugene or Jess Taylor’s achingly desperate cheerleader Patty, get to pop up unexpectedly and help nudge the plot on.

eye-catching

There are a couple of real stand-outs though. Millie Wilson is consistantly eye-catching as Frenchy, while Corey Learmonth as her Teen Angel is something of a show-stopper with a close-to-the-knuckle Beauty School Dropout in yet another generously choreographed routine.

But while Eve Hansen as Marty does real justice to Freddy My Love and the ever engaging Ellen Jessica Eklund likewise to It’s Raining On Prom Night – here a delicately realised duet with Sandy – it is Cora Eskine as Rizzo, leader of the Pink Ladies, who provides the real standout moment. There Are Worse Things I Could Do is tough, conflicted and heart rending – a glimpse of Grease’s real depths.

Gowland brings plenty of invention to the production – recreating Vince Fontaine as ultra-sleazy Mr Vince (Benjamin Lockhart) and Mr Fontaine (the diminutive Theo Wake) is a particularly strong idea. But welcome as it might be to see the performers of the Class of 59 reunion, which frames the whole, it is the one bit of the original musical that doesn’t quite work as it might.

All told, though, this is a sterling piece of work from both the large backstage team who brought it together but mostly from the young performers themselves who prove that there really is no match for live performance.

Running time: Two hours and 15 minutes (including one interval)
Festival Theatre, 13/29 Nicolson Street, EH8 9FT
Friday 29 – Saturday 30 July 2022
Evenings: 7.30pm; Mat Sat 2:30pm.

Tickets and details:  Book here.

ENDS

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Comments (1)

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  1. Nancy McKenzie says:

    Fabulous show and the achievment in two weeks was amazing.