MONDAY 3RD APRIL 2017 – Empire Theatre, Liverpool – Review by Tate James, originally written for West End Wilma
The pulling power of Grease has never been more prevalent than opening night at the vast auditorium of the Liverpool Empire Theatre, when a two-thousand-strong sold out audience sang along with “Hopelessly Devoted to You”. Producer David Ian struck gold back in the day when he took the most popular movie musical of all time and put it on stage, and has gone to every length since to maintain its status as a musical theatre titan, including the 2007 ITV talent show “Grease Is the Word”. His latest trick seems to be one undertaken by many a show nowadays: to pack it to the brim with varying degrees of celebrity in the leading roles.
Following in the footsteps of his twinkle-toed Band Member Jay McGuinness, Tom Parker from The Wanted takes to the stage and dons the leather jacket as the leader of the T-Birds, Danny Zuko. Despite not looking like the typical Danny, Tom sings well and definitely dances up a storm in the energetic hand-jive sequence, and we are willing to overlook his initial wooden delivery when he warms up in the second half and surprises with moments of real humour and charm.
Swapping her ruby slippers for the infamous cork wedges of Sandy is Over the Rainbow star Danielle Hope. It’s the age old story of how the innocent school girl ignores all of her morals, curls her hair and slips into a skin tight catsuit to win her man, and Hope delivers a very well-pitched performance. Her rendition of Sandra Dee in the second act, complete with hair toss and power belt, is the standout performance of the night.
Less successful is the casting of Louisa Lytton as an underwhelming and immature Rizzo, and the unnecessary inclusion of Darren Day into proceedings as Vince Fontaine and the Teen Angel. Lytton lacks the harshness we crave from Rizzo, and though Day sings well, he seems out of place in this vibrant and energetic company of talented youthful performers. His gratuitous 1970s Austin Powers impression in a musical set in the 1950s and other extraneous ad libs about being too old all read as a cry for attention in a show where the young ensemble are the definite stars.
And what an ensemble they are. Their slick high energy choreography and infectious personality bring the timeless musical to life, set to the brilliant sound of Griff Johnson’s band. Despite being close to 25 years since this incarnation first landed in the West End, the production values don’t seem to falter; from the storybook set, to the flawless wigs and the delightful costumes.
The question is, why is it necessary to cram this show full with surplus star names when it remains a crowd-pleasing favourite without them? The majority of the full house at the Empire theatre were there to watch their favourite musical live and not to see the stars cast within it, so can that not be enough? We can’t put our finger on what makes us love this show so much. It’s not the stars we cast or however many exciting new changes we make… it’s the classic story of boy meets girl with a score of infectious finest-karaoke classics. After all, Grease is the Word!