Theatre Review: Grease, Empire Theatre, Liverpool

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Image Source: The Guide Liverpool

Written By: Mark Armstrong

Format: Musical
Genre: Romantic Comedy
Date: April 3 2017
Location: Empire Theatre, Liverpool

Grease is one of the most famous films of all-time. The story is easy to follow, the characters are memorable, the performances are excellent, and the songs are timeless. Nearly 40 years on, it remains a true favourite, garnering high viewing figures whenever it’s shown on television. Therefore, the prospect of seeing Grease on stage was pretty enticing. However, those who know their stuff about Grease will know that the film is actually based on the musical, not vice versa. Nevertheless, the movie itself is what most people think of, and so a high bar was raised for the 2017 incarnation.

Set at Rydell High School, Grease tells the story of two groups: the T-Birds and the Pink Ladies, consisting of guys and girls respectively. Within those two cliques, we’re introduced to Danny Zuko (played here by Tom Parker of The Wanted) and Sandy Olsson (Danielle Hope), who previously met during a vacation and have been reunited here in Rydell. Initially unaware that the other is present, but telling their various friends about the summer romance, Danny and Sandy soon realise that they are both in Rydell, and the crux of the story then centres around whether they can take their previous romance any further, not least because of several bumps in the road along the way. We’re also privy to other relationships involving members of the T-Birds and Pink Ladies, such as the blossoming romance between Kenickie (Tom Senior) and Rizzo (Louisa Lytton), who have setbacks of their own. Different scenes are introduced by Teen Angel/Vince (Darren Day), who adds some comic relief at times whilst also acting as a buffer between developments at time through his announcements on the local Wixx Radio.

Of course, the story – which is mostly light-hearted and feel-good, with some comedy thrown in fairly often – has one other element, which is the most memorable part of the Grease experience: the music. There are plenty of catchy songs, as any Grease fan will be aware of, and all of the favourites are performed here. They include Grease (Is The Word), Summer Nights, Hopelessly Devoted To You, Greased Lightnin’, We Go Together and You’re The One That I Want. Suffice it so say, disregarding everything else for a moment, if the idea of a good sing-a-long and a dance is what you want from a theatre show, then Grease definitely (and unsurprisingly) succeeds.

On a musical level, and also from an acting standpoint, Danielle Hope was the star of the show as Sandy, perfectly reprising one of the most memorable female roles in cinematic history. Tom Parker’s singing was strong, but his acting as Danny Zucko was not quite as convincing in channelling John Travolta as Danielle had been in regards to the original actress who played Sandy in the movie, Olivia Newton-John. The rest of the cast were mostly strong, with Louisa Lytton shining more as an actress and as a character than as a singer, whilst Darren Day, who was more of a background player in the first half, came into his own and provided some laughs in the second half. The comedy in general didn’t quite jump off the stage and stand out as much as some attendees may have thought, at least in my opinion, but there were definitely some comical moments, such as the Beauty School Dropout scene.

The settings were superb, using excellent lighting effects and additional props to bring us into specific locations like a canteen, a sports hall and an American diner. The use of the show’s main logo as a large-scale red-and-white LED light was eye-catching and colourful, and provided a great background for attendees prior to the show beginning. I liked the little nuances too, such as the light-up guitar. The best part of the show from a production standpoint was the use of the Greased Lightning car with additional lights and striking physical features, making sure that the car – obviously an integral part of the story – was one of the more memorable aspects of the show, and brought about strong audience reactions whenever it appeared.

Summing it up, this is obviously a show which will go down most positively with anyone (or should that be just about everyone?) who has seen the movie Grease. I’m not sure if the show truly lived up to the standard set by the admittedly-classic film, and it wasn’t necessarily a show that will “wow” you, but with its catchy songs, easy-to-follow story and cool visual techniques, you’ll still have a good time reliving one of the most memorable movies of all-time in this latest theatre production.

Overall Rating: 8/10 – Very Good