Tag Archives: Arlene Phillips

Party Piece

GREASE

Birmingham Hippodrome, Monday 29th May, 2017

 

When it was first staged in the 1970s, the show was a nostalgic look-back at supposedly simpler times.  The film version, starring John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John as positively geriatric teenagers, became a phenomenal global hit, still highly popular, and giving the stage show a new lease of life that shows no signs of failing.  Inevitably, with the film so fixed in the popular consciousness, there are audience expectations that director David Gilmore must meet.  We know how Grease should be done.  Or we think we do.  Some of the songs don’t appear at the same points in the story as they do in the screenplay.  Other numbers, only background music in the film, are given centre stage here.  Conversely, what appears in the film but not in the show, has been interpolated here: chiefly, the opening number by songwriter supremo, Barry Gibb.

Plotwise, it couldn’t be simpler.  Boy meets girl but they’re in different groups at high school, where peer pressure is irresistible… Who will change to overcome the cultural divide?

Frankly, the T-Birds, all leather jackets and DA haircuts, come across as a bunch of twats.  Danny (Tom Parker) feels obliged to deny his feelings for Sandy (Danielle Hope) in order to keep in with his laddish mates.  For her part, Sandy is too straitlaced to be fully integrated into the girls’ gang, the Pink Ladies.  Parker, former member of boyband The Wanted, sings competently; his real strength is in the physical comedy of his portrayal.  Hope is suitably prim as Sandy, her singing voice rich and with a more mature sound than her girlfriends.

Louisa Lytton is a brassy Rizzo.  She gets the ‘dramatic’ moments when a pregnancy scare allows her to belt out There Are Worse Things I Could Do.  Like Danny, she is hampered by her public image.  Revealing her true self would be a sign of weakness.  And so, the show is about the pressures on teens to conform – with whatever group they wish to be part of.   Also, Frenchy (a vivacious Rhiannon Chesterman) feels she can’t tell her friends she has flunked out of beauty school, while her would-be suitor Doody (Ryan Heenan) is physically incapable of stringing the words together to ask her to the dance.

Heenan stands out among the T-Birds as the likeable, little one.  He gets a couple of solo moments, showcasing his talents.

Greased Lightning is a big production number with Tom Senior’s Kenickie cranked up to 11.  It’s loud and brash, laddism writ large.  It’s like being beaten up by a song.

Treat of the night comes from a cameo appearance by ‘Little’ Jimmy Osmond himself as a somewhat superannuated Teen Angel.  Pure showbiz royalty, Osmond knows when to milk it, knows when to be cheesy – how dairy!  His song brings the house down and such is his charisma and the fact that IT’S JIMMY OSMOND, we hardly notice the showgirls swanning around in true Las Vegas style.

The energetic ensemble generates a lot of heat.  Arlene Phillips’s choreography is flashy and fun, adding to the infectious quality of the show.  People are here to have a good time.  This audience doesn’t need warming up.  It’s a party of a show, a guaranteed good time and a chance to escape from whatever it is you might want to escape from.  Cosy and safe, Grease is a reliable crowd-pleaser – and there’s nothing wrong with that.

grease

You’re the one from The Wanted, oo-oo ooh. Tom Parker and Danielle Hope

 

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Dealing with Issues

JACKIE – The Musical

Belgrade Theatre, Coventry, Wednesday 16th March, 2016

 

Yet another jukebox musical is doing the rounds but fear not, this is one of the better ones. Jackie is fifty-four and facing divorce from her husband of twenty years. While sorting through the attic she comes across a stash of her old Jackie magazines. The find triggers the appearance of her younger self as a sort of adviser and confidante, as Jackie navigates her way through the dating scene, deals with her teenage son and tries to come to terms with her new status in life.

Cue the songs and plenty of them. Pop hits from the 70s mainly and a real nostalgia fest. Dancing on a Saturday Night, Tiger Feet, Puppy Love…

As Jackie, Janet Dibley, although not the strongest singer, is a likeable leading lady, supported by Daisy Steere as the incarnation of her younger self. The latter delivers a belting rendition of I Love To Love. Providing a lot of the laughs is Lori Haley Fox as Jackie’s best friend Jill. Michael Hamway is appealing as son David; his performance includes a rousing version of 20th Century Boy that gets people dancing in the aisles. Seriously. Graham Bickley and Nicholas Bailey are the men in Jackie’s life, husband John and new boyfriend Max respectively. Bickley is a better at singing than he is at delivering the sometimes duff dialogue, while Bailey is suitably attractive and passionate. His Love Is In The Air is a highlight. You think you know where all this is going as Max’s failings come to light and the incompatibility of John and his fiancée becomes apparent. But in a show about a magazine that empowered young girls (to an extent), there is a final card to play.

The score feels cobbled together by a shoehorn but it turns out it doesn’t matter. The marvellous live band, the choreography, and the ensemble carry us through the banalities of the plot and the sometimes unconvincing dialogue. The ensemble exudes energy, carrying off Arlene Phillips’s vintage choreography with flair (and in flares). The colourful costumes and vibrant, versatile set (both designed by Tim Shortall) evoke the bygone era, a more innocent age. I would rethink the speech balloons the cast carry on a couple of times: the lettering is too small on some of them for us to enjoy the captions.

Young Jackie marvels at laptops, the internet and mobile phones but it turns out her older self is still very much preoccupied with the same concerns (lack of confidence, what do boys want?) thirty years down the line.

It all adds up to a lot of fun. Lightweight and frothy, this show may have its issues but it proves ultimately irresistible and rather sweet.

Jackie

Janet Dibley and Daisy Steere as Jackie and Young Jackie (Photo: Pamela Raith)