Review – Grease

July 27, 2013 | By More

✭✭✭✩✩  Packs a punch

Edinburgh Playhouse: Fri 26-Sat 27 July 2013
Review by Thom Dibdin

Broad strokes and big voices pack a real punch in the Stage Experience production of Grease at the Edinburgh Playhouse, where it is playing until Saturday night.

With 120 youngsters in the cast there is certainly no problem in filling the stage. But this is a production that does a whole lot more, with a sound and satisfying rendition of the original high school musical.

Danny and the gang on the bleachers in the Stage Experience production of Grease at the Edinburgh Playhouse. Photo credit: <a href=

Grease is perfect material for such an undertaking. Forget that the two Johns – Travolta and Olivia Newton – gave the movie its iconic status back in 78. The musical is a glorious piece of teen-trivia, dating from the early 70s, which plays on anxieties and yearnings that are universal.

And to Stage Experience’s credit this is the original musical, complete with references to thieving, smoking, drinking and teen pregnancies which the bowdlerised “Schools version” dropped.

In 1959 small town America, bad boy Danny (Ronan Burns) has spent the summer hanging out on the beach with new-girl in town Sandy (Rebecca Scott). When term starts again at Rydell High, the question is whether they can hang on to what they had – or if Danny is too cool for Sandy’s goody two-shoes image.

Sandy and the Pink Ladies in the Stage Experience production of Grease at the Edinburgh Playhouse. Photo credit: www.andylowphoto.co.uk

Sandy and the Pink Ladies. Photo: www.andylowphoto.co.uk/

Burns and Scott have serious impressive voices. Once the scene setting is all done their Summer Nights duet – with Sandy in the lunch area with ultra-cool girl gang the Pink Ladies and Danny on the bleachers with his greaser pals – gets a tingle of satisfaction going.

Director Malcolm J Burnett makes excellent use of the complete cast to allow the number to ride high. The principals are there, egging the young would-be couple on, while the chorus give a depth and volume to the whole presentation.

Indeed, Burnett’s use of the cast is impressive throughout. The opening number, set at a Rydell High reunion, sees the chorus lining the aisles of the theatre. And they return there for the big mash-up finale.

What doesn’t come across quite so well in the musical version is the storytelling. The transition from the class reunion to its parody and on to that big scene with Summer Nights, is taken in leaps. And overall the show has a tendency to create a succession of numbers rather than strong sweep of narrative.

Which is not in any way to diminish the impact of those numbers. And the musical provides plenty of opportunity for each of the principals for shine.

Scott Coltman kicks it off as greaser Doody with a thoroughly satisfying rendition of Those Magic Changes. It starts off with him strumming his new guitar to little effect in the school hall, but quickly moves into fantasy land as he steps out onto the apron to give it large and impressive.

An impressive team on stage
Born to Hand Jive from the Stage Experience production of Grease at the Edinburgh Playhouse. Photo credit: <a href=

Born to Hand Jive Photo: www.andylowphoto.co.uk/

The Pink Ladies gang also make an impressive team on stage. There is a real energy to the scene where the newly arrived Sandy first hangs out with them in a pyjama party at Marty (Caitlin Tipping)’s house.

Tipping demonstrates a fantastic voice, packing power and nuance, for her big number, Freddy My Love. The other Pink Ladies – Rachel Flynn as stroppy know-it-all Betty Rizzo, Katie Lynch as wannabe beautician Frenchy and Kirsty Allen as ever-hungry, frumpy Jan, have fun developing their characters.

There is rather less nuance in the characters of the greaser lads for the performers to get their acting faculties around. But Peter Vint (the big lug, Kenickie), Ross Hunter (Roger, the mooner), Kieran Welsh (Sonny) and Coltman have great fun with them, none the less.

And nowhere do they have more fun than in their first big number: Greased Lightning. Which sees Vint letting go with the moves in his “new” car as the other members bring on the stolen hubcaps.

Unfortunately, Greased Lightning is also the one place in the whole show where the staging fails. Jonnie Clough’s otherwise excellent lightening design is just too heavy with the headlights into the audience – the effect usually used to mask scene changes in this case obscuring the onstage action.

The second act allows the onstage band to step out from the shadows as the action moves to the High School hop. Under Simon Hanson’s assured guidance, they give crisp and hearty support to the singers on stage.

There is, equally, great understanding of the needs of the piece from choreographer Iain Hughes. The hop scene, with its hand-jive contest that is won by Danny and interloper Cha-Cha Digregorio (Rose Huyton), is a big, complex piece of choreography, packed with huge ensemble dances and solo efforts.

You're The One That I Want from the Stage Experience production of Grease at the Edinburgh Playhouse. Photo credit: <a href=

You’re The One That I Want. Photo: www.andylowphoto.co.uk/

It is also a thoroughly satisfying piece of staging and storytelling, with strong integration of the dialogue and action as all sorts of subplots develop. The whole sequence is a real indication of the heights to which the show could have risen, given a bit longer than one intense fortnight to create it from scratch.

What really holds the whole production together is its technical prowess. The lyrics are clear and allowed to shine. The big ensemble dance routines are crisp and well timed. The accents are consistent and the singing is top rate.

The set-pieces are memorable too. Kieran Wynne’s Teen Angel for Beauty School Dropout is heavenly with the choreographed beauty-parlour clients a real treat. And the big showdown between Betty Rizzo and Sandy, with Flynn’s There Are Worse Things I Could Do and Scott reprising Sandra Dee, gets to the nub of teenage angst.

And as for the finale You’re The One That I Want, its a big escapist confirmation of the shallowness of callow youth. Great stuff in which, while you might observe that Ronan Burns is not quite a Travolta on the dance floor, you would also acknowledge that Travolta is no Burns when it comes to musical ability.

Running time 2 hrs 10 mins
Run ends Saturday 27 July 2013.
Tickets from: www.atgtickets.com
Edinburgh Playhouse, 18 – 22 Greenside Place, EH1 3AA. Fri-Sat 7.30pm, (Sat mat 2.30pm).

ENDS

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Comments (4)

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  1. Cameron says:

    Saw the show last night and couldn’t agree more – fantastic production and great to see the children having such a great opportunity and so much fun on stage.

    I am surprised that you didn’t pick up on the sound quality of the show which I feel let the whole production down. Loose microphones, missed lines, unable to hear the band and some dreadful background noise was a real disappointment. If I remember correctly the show suffered the same issues last year and was surprised to see the same company bring used again.

    It’s obvious that the playhouse have a great budget on this – the phenomenal lighting design easily on par with professional shows, yet a sound engineer who clearly can’t turn microphones on and off at the right time, never mind make it sound good. Hope playhouse management have a serious think ahead of future productions. All in all a great night out and thought cast were fantastic credit to Edinburgh’s youth of today.

  2. jen says:

    Agree with most of the comments made in the review but also agreed with the poster above who spoke about the terrible sound engineer, I noticed it most during Doodys solo song, but to give credit to him, he didn’t let it get to him and carried on regardless singing his heart out. I felt so sorry for him as it was really noticeable and not his fault. My husband is a singer and a sound engineer and so we pick up on these things really quickly and it was a disappointment, more for the folks on stage giving it their all. The show was overall really good though and I thoroughly enjoyed it, the casting was great and the acting and singing fantastic. ..great opportunity for the up and coming youngsters

  3. Dee says:

    I agree with most of the review, the kids were fantastic! However I disagree with what was said about Greased Lightning, it was one of the best parts of the show, full of energy, great car and in my opinion the lights weren’t too heavy and the staging definitely wasn’t a fail. I’ve saw Grease in the theatre four times now and have to say the stage experience show is the best one I’ve been too, well done to everyone who took part in it! 5/5 for me!

  4. Anna mouse says:

    Mentioned everything ….everything…but the costumes…. And without them would not have had the wow factor and they don’t appear by magic …lol some one has to make them look like that!