Grease: Popularity is great for high school, professionalism is better for theatre

Grease has got groove, it’s got feeling. But this unctuous performance is hardly slick

In Grease, ‘virginity is as big a stigma as an unwanted pregnancy’

In Grease, ‘virginity is as big a stigma as an unwanted pregnancy’

 

Bord Gáis Energy Theatre, Dublin 

★★

Grease, a musical in which teenage hormones are more revved up than any drag racing Cadillac, has existed in several versions, from Jim Jacobs and Warren Casey’s unvarnished 1972 original, through the indelible, sanitised film version and any number of hopelessly devoted nostalgic revivals.

In every version, though, it’s a show about kids trying to fit in: where late 1950s high-school codes ensure a rigid hierarchy of T-Bird greasers and Pink Lady dolls; where virginity is as big a stigma as an unwanted pregnancy; and where any declaration of love is viewed more suspiciously than wildly embellished reports of sex.

This garish new touring production has its own trouble with misfits, primarily in its casting, where, led by the imperative of the box office, it prefers the assurance of famous faces than seasoned musical performers. If the cast biographies dutifully list the extensive training and experience of its ensemble on one hand, and dwells on the combined 1.5 million social media followers of its lead on the other, you have some legitimate cause for concern. Popularity is great for high school, professionalism is better for Grease.

Besides, it’s not as if Grease itself had anything to worry about. These songs carry such Pavlovian pleasure that the production opens with a 1950s big band leading us in a medley of the hits to come: Pre-Grease! More than one of those songs, when played, come with a dummy ending then a gleeful bonus reprisal: Extra Grease! And the show ends with yet another medley performed by its indefatigably bright cast: Re-Grease! You’ll practically slide all the way home.

But these are the tactics of the over-earnest school debater, telling you what they intend to argue, arguing it, and finally summing up the arguments. Grease, though, is a musical less complicated than most breakfast cereals. Who are they trying to persuade? 

Perhaps the oversell is intended as compensation. In the role of tormented teen heartthrob Danny Zucco is Tom Parker, of boyband The Wanted, a man in full command of all the moves, leaps and wiggles a rebel requires. He sings, however, as though he has recently punctured a lung, his voice wavering in volume and clipping his notes short. Danielle Hope, a musical theatre recruit from a TV talent show, does a little better as a lacklustre Sandy, while Louisa Lytton, a star of soaps and reality shows, has the sardonic swagger of Rizzo, but sadly not the vocal chops.

All the strength is in the support, with Gabriella Williams’ goody two-shoes Patty, Lauren Atkins’ precocious vamp Marty and – far more sympathetic than the humiliating romance of its leads – the awkward affection between Oliver Jacobson’s Rump and Rosanna Harris’s Jan.

Grease is the word, as you’ve heard; it’s got groove, it’s got meaning. This Grease has enviable access to a combined social media following and Jimmy Osmond delightedly hamming it up in a cameo appearance as a superannuated Teen Angel. Like the show, it’s an unctuous performance, but hardly slick.

Runs until August 8