Sunday, 12 September 2021

REVIEW: Grease at the New Victoria Theatre, Woking

From Chicago in ’71 and Broadway in ’72 and the West End in ‘73, to the biggest box-office Hollywood hit, through two broadway revivals, five West End revivals, four tours and a TV adaptation, it's fair to say that Grease has been around the block a few times. Yet this UK tour version still manages to make the show feel fresh and exciting.

This wonderful cast are led by Dan Partridge as Danny and Georgina Louise as Sandy. Partridge truly commands the company when he takes to the stage; his presence and authority are matched only by his swagger and charm. He really comes to life in Act 2 as he gives us his heartfelt ‘Sandy.’ Louise is perfectly innocent in her part, and has a voice that would shake even the hardiest of the Burger Palace Boys. Again in Act 2, Louise’s voice tears through the auditorium in ‘Sandra Dee’— an absolute show stopper and truly magnificent to witness.

The selling point of this production for a lot of the audience is the star name; Peter Andre. Andre played radio DJ Vince Fontaine and Teen Angel. I always have reservations about castings of this type, but I am pleased to report that Andre is well suited to the role. He oozes confidence when he finally reaches the stage and really gives his all to the show. With a great voice, some slick footwork, and a rather questionable leopard print tux, he proved my reservations wrong. Tendai Rinomhota’s stunning tone is perfect for Rizzo, and both the Pink Ladies and the Burger Palace Boys are slick and tight in their exchanges, but sometimes to a fault. At the top of the show, after a gut-punching rendition of ‘Grease is the Word’, the text was somewhat lost in the frenetic flow and dropped consonants. Whilst I was impressed at the speed and complexity of lots of the dialogue, in more than a handful of places the clarity was lost and I was left struggling to understand the conversations that were unfolding on stage.

Rydell High School, the Burger Palace, and various bedrooms and lounges came together through scenic and costume designer, Colin Richmond, and his set design associate, James Donnelly. The central pieces consisted of the school name arched around a huge neon circle encompassing a raised platform from which Vince Fontaine spun his records, and two movable staircases. Nikolai Foster's direction utilised the stunning set well, and Richmond and Donnelly’s vision for a versatile set was realised, with school gym equipment often being used to separate areas and give the stage depth.

Hand Jive always has a lot to live up to when it is performed, and this production is no exception. With choreography from the legendary Arelene Philips, and her brilliant associate choreographer, Richard Roe, the audience were left desperate to join in. The group numbers, like everything else in the show from set changes to hair, were slick. Pair this choreography with the world-famous music and lyrics of Jim Jacobs and Warren Casey and you have a recipe for success. All it needs is someone to steer the musical ship: Dan Glover. Glover’s brilliant musical direction is evidenced in two ways: a cast that blend and harmonise perfectly, and a band that shake the floor. The mix of these made the whole theatre come to life as the rock and roll musical belted through its famous tunes. The company and the band truly got to let their hair down and rock out with the packed audience during the finale in a whirlwind megamix where we were released from the rules of respectfully not singing along to our favourite songs!

Finally, a huge congratulations and ‘welcome back’ to the New Victoria Theatre. This was their first production since the pandemic forced our industry to shut up- shop, and the reception was delightful. What a way to re-open!

Review by Max Topliss

Rating: ★★★★★

Seat: K3 (Stalls) | Price of Ticket: £58

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