Grease is undoubtedly one of the most popular productions ever to be staged, and by and large, theatre audiences go along knowing just what to expect.
How refreshing then, that, in the hands of director, Nikolai Foster, this touring musical was stripped right back to its roots and remained entirely faithful to the original script written in the early 70s.
Jim Jacobs and Warren Casey originally penned Grease as a play reflecting their own lives growing up as working class kids in 1950s Chicago. That life was far removed from the saccharin, sweetness of the Hollywood film that we are all so familiar with.
It didn’t take the opening night audience at Wales Millennium Centre long to respect this grittier, more honest approach as we were quickly launched into the familiar high school themes of troubled adolescence, bullying and sexuality.
I felt that Danny Zuko and Sandy Dumbrowski’s romance took a back seat amongst the reality of the social landscape in which our characters found themselves and at times the huge score threatened to overwhelm rather than enhance the storyline.
Dan Partridge and Martha Kirby certainly gave a different take on these two iconic roles, with both losing any vulnerability along the way.
That said, there were some undeniable, huge performances. Rhianne-Louise McCaulsky was gifted the part of Betty Rizzo, confident and sassy, her rendition of ‘There Are Worse Things I Could Do’ was the stand out show-stopper with Louis Gaunt as Kenickie more than proving her rival with a thrilling rendition of ‘Greased Lightning’, both performances earning lengthy applause.
Superbly choreographed by Arlene Phillips, the dance routines were sharp and high octane, and the addition of more hits, ‘Tattoo Song’, ‘How Big I’m Gonna Be’ and ‘Mooning’ played by the excellent on-stage orchestra, added to the authenticity of the era.
With humour being in short supply, it was unsurprising that the loudest cheer of the night was saved for Teen Angel, Darren Bennett as he mocked cute and kooky, Frenchy, played by the excellent Eloise Davies with an innovative ‘Beauty School Dropout’.
The production ends on a customary high with a mega-mix of hits, giving the audience an opportunity to jump to their feet.
I guess Grease still is the word!