Jim Jacobs and Warren Casey
Sunderland Empire and touring

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Grease is the word on everybody’s lips after the slick musical extravaganza rock ‘n’ rolled into the city of Sunderland this week.

And last night’s opening scene set the tone for a fast and furious show that was nothing short of electrifying. In a nice touch, the orchestra, decked out in Teddy boy outfits, performed a medley of Grease hits on a raised platform, to get the audience in the mood for the evening ahead.

Hearing all those unforgettable tunes again, from Summer Nights and Hopelessly Devoted to Greased Lightnin’ and Sandy, it’s easy to see why Grease won the viewers’ vote last year as Channel 4’s number one greatest musical.

The story needs little introduction. It’s a classic tale of boy meets girl, set against a nostalgic 50s Americana backdrop. Danny Zuko, leader of the T-birds, is the sexy, high school heart-throb. He’s afraid to show his real feelings for the new girl in town, the wholesome, sweet-natured Sandy, for fear of the taunts from his mates.

In this production by Paul Nicholas and David Ian, Danny is played by the charismatic Paul Manuel, a seasoned West End performer, with nice touches of humour. Although a little too scrawny in appearance for my liking, Manuel certainly looked the part. This young charmer seemed to be enjoying himself and it showed in his performance.

Sandy was played last night by understudy Michelle Francis, standing in for a poorly Hayley Evetts. Francis, too, was a joy to watch and totally credible in her role, belting out the hits and really doing justice to them.

There were notable performances, too, from the sassy, sarcastic Rizzo, played by Scarborough-born Deborah Hayward, and funny, loveable Frenchy, played by understudy Nicky Milford.

Thanks to Arlene Phillips’ choreography so many scenes stood out - from the spectacular Greased Lightnin’ number and the kids in all their finery Shakin’ at the High School Hop to the climactic You’re the One That I Want.

Although there were no surprises tonight, there was nothing to disappoint either.

Just a word of warning, though, if you’re taking children with you to the show. I’d forgotten quite how raunchy some of the scenes were, and with my two young daughters and their friend sitting alongside me, I must admit to cringing in one or two parts. I was just hoping the innuendo went over their heads.

But there’s no doubting the enduring appeal of this high-octane show – it’s still The One That You Want.

The tour goes on to York, Llandudno, Ipswich, Cardiff, Stoke, Disneyland (Paris), Birmingham, Hull, Truro and Edinburgh.

Reviewer: Katharine Capocci

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