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Review: Grease the Musical at the Wales Millennium Centre

Sandy's a brunette, the T-birds are the Burger Palace boys and 'We Go Together' comes on in the middle of the story, rather than right at the end. Have they taken our most beloved musical film and messed it around just to annoy us? Nope....Grease (in case you didn't know already, in which case apologies for sounding so patronising) in fact debuted on Broadway a fair few years before it became the 1978 classic we are all so fond of. The 2019 stage version is a brilliant amalgamation of the more saccharine on-screen adaptation and its grittier, more stripped-back predecessor, which blew me away when I attended the press night earlier this week. If you get the chance, I urge you to book tickets at the Wales Millennium Centre, there are still some left for the matinees.

Photo I took during the mega mix at the end!

I adored how this version of the story felt like more of the ensemble cast, it wasn't the Sandy and Danny show. Time on stage was dedicated to most of the cast in the form of solo songs or small scenes, so we get to know the Burger Palace Boys and The Pink Ladies better, as well as other supporting cast members including frumpy teacher Miss Lynch and peppy cheerleader Patty Simcox. Every single performance brought something to the table and I thought it all came together wonderfully.

Louis Gaunt as Kenickie stood out as the best male in this performance. I popped to the toilets during the interval and heard a group of women commenting that he should have been picked to play the lead role of Danny, which I fully agree with! The only thing I can think of as a reason for why they didn't go down this route is that Kenickie sings ‘Greased Lightnin'’ and maybe they knew Gaunt would give the most stellar performance of this song. Really high energy with excellent dance skills – he brought so much to this role and you definitely warmed to Kenickie more than Danny.

Peter Andre and Samantha Mumba have had cameos as Teen Angel ('Beauty School Dropout') throughout this run of Grease . I was slightly miffed that we didn't get one, but Darren Bennett was actually an impressive singer and portrayed both Teen Angel and over-friendly radio host Vince Fontaine really well, getting lots of laughs from the audience too. Fair play to him for helping to make my most hated song of the film version into something so captivating and visually stunning on stage.

Eloise Davies as Frenchy, Natalie Woods as Jan and Tara Sweeting as Marty were fantastic in their roles. The Pink Ladies were much more fully fleshed out as individuals than they are in the film. They smashed their solos! The character of Frenchy was identical to the girl you’ll be familiar with (including the distinctive voice!); Tara Sweeting brought the character's kind and gentle nature to life. 

Rhianne-Louise McCaulsky as Rizzo delivered an absolutely outstanding, radiant performance as the brash, unapologetic, misunderstood queen of the Pink ladies. When I was younger, film Rizzo was my least favourite; the complexity of her character and the issues of feminism and 'slut shaming' she stood for were completely lost on me. It's only when you get older that you realise she's amazing, with her tough, brash exterior put on to cover up the fact that deep down, she experiences loneliness and vulnerability, just like any other teenager.

When McCaulsky belted out 'There Are Worse Things I Could Do', it just felt so ‘big’and breathtaking; tragic and heartfelt, sang with a beautiful tone and each lyric full of meaning. Her 'Look at Me I'm Sandra Dee' was bloody dazzling as well. Honestly could not keep my eyes off this woman!

I really liked Martha Kirby as Sandy, she had a gorgeous voice and she played the part well. She shone in 'Hopelessly Devoted to You' which gave me chills and when she and Danny sang 'Summer Nights' it was her side of the stage I was transfixed by, rather than his. I don’t want to discredit Dan Partridge as Danny, you can tell he does have talent, but he was overshadowed by other characters. He didn’t stand out much and I feel as though the lead male should have had more of an impact.

If I have to give further negative criticisms, I would say the end reveal of Sandy in her new leather get up ( still ends the same way as the film and's a really silly and lazy ending which must be taken with a pinch of salt!) is a bit of an anti-climax. 'You’re the One That I Want' was the only song I thought they could have jazzed up and made more explosive.

This musical brings a fresh take on the story we all know and love. It's more gutsy with an energetic cast and superb choreography (by the legendary Arlene Phillips) bringing more heart to the story in a way the film didn't quite manage to - that's my opinion and I know many people will disagree!

If you go in not having done your research, expecting a carbon copy of the film with the exact same timeline and song placements, be prepared to be let down. But even if you are a die-hard fan of the movie...why not have a more open mind? Not everything has to be done exactly the same way over and over, all the time...that would be so boring!

Last but not least, this review would not be complete without mentioning the hugely talented Musical Director Neil MacDonald and his ensemble. There are some songs you most likely won't have heard before as they didn't make it into the film, but they slot in perfectly and are good songs in their own right. Hearing the spectacular score with professional singers gave me a lot more appreciation for how 'electrifyin' the songs in Grease truly are.

Grease will be touring again in 2020 if you don't manage to catch it here in Cardiff this year. It's a must-see...go!!!!

Coming soon to the WMC (reviews to come!):


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