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Grease was the word at the Liverpool Empire as yet another sell-out audience was enrolled in Rydell High School as the class of ’58.
Sandy played by Danielle Hope, was an island of stillness and reflection in the otherwise cartoonish rush of events. Obviously still devoted to Danny played by Tom Parker, her innocence and naivety were the perfect contrast to the rest of her peers.
The actress seems to go from strength to strength in her theatre roles and this one was a polished and strong performance to add to her repertoire. Tom Parker on the other hand appeared less certain in his role and seemed to lack the stage presence to impress that he could be the cool Danny Zuko. Darren Day, a long-standing theatre favourite, was a mature anchor as Vince and the audience warmed immediately to his showboating, despite his one or two pitchy moments.
But the real stars of the show were the irrepressible musical numbers. Nostalgia and teen angst were encapsulated in every song, Greased Lightning, Hopelessly Devoted to You and You’re the One That I Want being the stand-out songs from this show.
The show has, at its core, strong production values. The energetic dancing and musical staging, courtesy of Arlene Phillips, was innovative and sassy. The locker room dancing was very funny and some of the choreography had elements of modern movement. Praise also to the stage set designer Terry Parsons whose neon-lit design was dazzling in more ways than one.
Overall however, the full-on presentation did not allow room for the actors to develop emotional depth in their characters. I appreciate that they were playing teenagers with their own mid 1950’s rock ‘n’ roll sub-culture but such a hectic pace on stage left little room between the hip-thrusting, breast grabbing and backside wiggling, to develop a less hormone-charged sense of light and shade.
There was so much blatant sexual innuendo that at times it felt I was back in the days of the Carry On films! Even making excuses that juveniles will act juvenile, it was hard to warm to such stereotypes today. In excluding the possible development of a full emotional range, the story was robbed of depth and the audience was robbed of the possibility of empathy. Rizzo’s great show-stopping song, There Are Worst Things I Could Do, is a lovely, slow and melancholy number in the movie but here the self-examination and pathos were all but missing.
I was left wondering if the show has ever been staged professionally using actual teenagers; perhaps that would then at least would be more authentic and genuinely cooler than adults over-trying.
If you want to dust off your Pink Ladies blouse or dig out your leather motorbike jacket and be immersed in great tunes played by a versatile band on a brash, neon-lit stage, then this show is for you. Be aware however, that the fifties nostalgia and entertainment will come laced with the out-dated notions that girls are tarts and boys are studs, less you take offence at what is after all just a good night of entertainment.