Vivienne Kennedy reviews Grease, playing at the Bristol Hippodrome until Saturday 25 September 2021.
Seven years after the original stage show premiered in Chicago (and six after its Broadway opening), the film adaptation of Grease was THE movie to see in 1978, the summer I left primary school. It remains the only film I have ever watched more than once in the cinema (I went four times) and I have seen it on TV, video tape and DVD many, many times since. I loved it, my friends loved it, and by the time we walked into Worle Comp that September we were the Pink Ladies; we were seniors and we were going to rule the school… except we were only first years (year sevens in today’s language) and we only ruled the school for the first five minutes, after that we encountered the second years, who were big and scary and very quick to put us in our place.
Being so hopelessly devoted to the film (see what I did there?), I have always been reluctant to watch it on stage. I’ve seen a couple of college productions, but never the full bells and whistles professional show. I always feared it would somehow mar my enjoyment of the film in future. I’m silly.
You must all know the story, (if you don’t, we can never be friends), but I’ll quickly recap… it’s a bit like Romeo and Juliet, featuring two young people who fall in love, but who can’t be together because he’s a Montague/Burger Palace Boy (T-Birds in the film) and she’s a Capulet who’s yet to be accepted into the Pink Ladies. He takes up running, she puts on some leggings, they all live happily ever after.
From the reaction to his first, and every subsequent, appearance, it’s obvious Peter Andre, starring as Vince Fontaine/Teen Angel at certain performances, has many fans in Bristol, and he’s very good, almost stealing the limelight from the main action in some scenes as he hams it up in his DJ box above the stage. I have to confess to being a little disappointed that the alternate, Weston-super-Mare’s very own Jacob Fisher, who I have known since he was a stage school teenager, isn’t playing the role this time. We get to see Jacob take centre stage though as Johnny Casino, singing Shakin’ at the High School Hop, and he does a grand job.
One alternate does get their moment in the spotlight, Ellie Kingdon, making her professional debut in this production, who steps up as Sandy, possibly at very short notice as we are told just before the curtain goes up that a short delay has been due to a first aid emergency (best wishes to Georgia Louise, we hope she’s OK). Ellie’s great, bringing a strength to the character that I like; she may ultimately change to get her man, but she calls him out on his nonsense first, making him realise she’s worth changing his ways for too. She also brings strength to the songs; my God, what a powerful voice.
My highlights include the big set pieces – Greased Lightening, We Go Together and Hand Jive; Rizzo’s (Tendai Rinomhota) heart-wrenching rendition of There Are Worse Things I Could Do; and a beautifully tender scene between Jan and Roger (Maeve Byrne and Josh Barnett), in which they confess to mooning over each other (and Roger to the dropping his trousers type of mooning at any opportunity).
If I have any criticism, it’s that sometimes, in the group numbers, the balance between music and voices is slightly off, so you can’t always make out every lyric.
The evening ends with the megamix, when we’re invited to get up on our feet and join in, and, oh boy, do we go for it – 1200 people singing along to Summer Nights at the top of their voices… even I joined in and I’m not a joiner in’er. By the way, I needn’t have feared my love of the movie being sullied, there are enough differences between screen and stage versions for them to be two distinct entities and I like both equally, but for different reasons.
I could go on and on, in every review for the foreseeable future, about the joy of returning to live theatre. If theatre was something you enjoyed before this horrible period of our lives started, I cannot recommend strongly enough that you get back to it as soon as possible, it’s probably the most normal you’ll feel. And if it wasn’t something you did before, start now. The Bristol Hippodrome are being stringent about checking the Covid status of audience members, so you know everyone around you is either fully-vaccinated, has tested negative within the past 48 hours, or has natural immunity. This does mean entry takes a little longer than it used to, but they are staggering arrival times to keep queues down, and it flows pretty well. Inside, the staff wear face coverings and it’s recommended the audience do too, but, to be honest, few people bother and that actually feels OK.
Grease is on until Saturday and there are more fantastic shows coming up before the return of panto in December. To find out more, and to book tickets, visit atgtickets.com/venues/bristol-hippodrome/
Image: Peter Andre (front centre) as Vince Fontaine in Grease, credit Sean Ebsworth Barnes