Grease

Jim Jacobs and Warren Casey
Royal Concert Hall, Nottingham, and Touring
(2004)

Grease is the word - and has been for more than 20 years. Since it opened in a small, draughty theatre in a $171 budget production in Chicago, it's delighted people of all ages with its credible storylines, catchy tunes and nostalgic dance routines.

The musical has just started another tour, stopping off first of all in Nottingham (not to be confused with the Jonathan Wilkes and Hayley Evetts version which has just finished a one-month run at Manchester's Palace Theatre). It's packing them in every night, even though Grease was last in Nottingham only 20 months ago.

It's a story of boy meets girl - or several boys meet several girls - and traces how their adolescent relationships develop. Everyone can empathize with the teenagers trying to control their wild hormones, so in that respect Grease is timeless.

If you don't know the story by now, Danny Zuko is leader of the T-Birds and can have any chick he wants. He spends his time at Rydell High School flirting with the bombshells and doing whatever he can to impress those around him. But when gorgeous but old-fashioned Sandy comes onto the scene, he is reluctant to show his love for her because of the taunts he gets from his mates, some of whom look rather mature for high school.

The success of the show hinges on the two lead characters. Ben Richards played Danny at the Victoria Palace Theatre last year and on the Grease tour of Japan. He knows the part inside out and how to express Danny's sexuality, charm and presence to the full. It's a near faultless performance; the only emotion we don't feel for him is pity when his brashness leads to Sandy walking out on him before he comes to his senses.

Making her professional stage debut as Sandy is Suzanne Carley who reached the final fifty contestants in last year's Pop Idol. Some people who put themselves through the torture of going on the television talent show did it for the exposure rather than the desire to be a pop star. It worked for Suzanne who gives a sensual, controlled performance in a not too demanding role which proves she has far more ability than she was able to show on the small screen.

There are also fine performances from Mary Doherty as the affected, bitchy Rizzo; Jamie Tyler as the geeky Eugene; and Jane Quinn as the easily shocked teacher Miss Lynch.

Arlene Phillips' choreography, recreated by Rebecca Trelease, is slick throughout, especially so in We Go Together and Born to Hand Jive.

The only disappointment was the sound. Several times the balance was wrong, the band being too loud, some of the lead vocals not coming through as strong as they should and the backing vocals being too far down in the mix. But it didn't seem to worry the crowd too much as they were on their feet before the end.

Grease may not be the last word - but it comes pretty close.

"Grease" is on tour until July 3rd, with a cast change on March 19th

Reviewer: Steve Orme