From hand-jiving to slicked hair, Nikolai Foster’s Grease at the Dominion Theatre is a sprint down memory lane with extra twists. With book, music and lyrics by Jim Jacobs and Warren Casey and choreography by Arlene Phillips, this slice of nostalgia is the version of the 1950s that we would like to remember, swing dresses and all. The 50s come to life onstage, from Colin Richmond’s set and costume design to Douglas O’Connell’s projection design, as we are immersed in the period.
The 50s come to life onstage
It’s high school as you know it; toxic masculinity, extreme relationship drama and a found family. It’s the story of Sandy (Olivia Moore) and Danny (Dan Partridge) and the ups and downs of their relationship, their friendship groups - The Pink Ladies and the Burger Palace Boys (yes, not the T-Birds) - and high school. The show is held together by appearances of Vince Fontaine (Peter Andre) which grounds the plot into the time period even more. Unlike better known adaptations, the focus is not on Sandy and Danny. The musical takes time to develop the characters within these groups and relationships, refusing to lump them into their respective groups only to take them out to further Sandy and Danny’s relationship. Overall, Sandy and Danny’s relationship stems from a narrative need to tie it up neatly in a bow rather than a genuine connection between them. For example, Patty Simcox (Jessica Croll) is the one who encourages Danny’s attempts to improve himself and change, rather than Sandy.
Everything is highly energetic, a lot happens all at once, emphasised dramatically by Ben Cracknell's lighting design. However, the pacing for the scenes in between songs seems off; things either happen too quickly or too slowly. Giving the characters their own colour palettes and patterns, Richmond adds to the individualism and distinctiveness outside the labels of their respective cliques that Foster has instigated. Lesser known songs like Mooning and Those Magic Changes - which is beautifully sung by Jake Reynolds - are interspersed within better known ones like Sandra Dee or Beauty School Dropout.
The musical lives up to the hype, and the songs make the impression that they should. Moore’s rendition of Hopelessly Devoted to You is incredibly powerful and absolutely flawless. There is genuine compassion, anger and hurt behind her performance that strengthens her relationships with less traditional characters like Rizzo (Jocasta Almgill) or Kenickie (Paul French). Despite its lightness and lack of real depth, this production does try and do more with the musical than being just about high schoolers. We see this mostly through the Burger Palace Boys, whose overall joviality is interspersed with the odd sombre moment, such as the reminder that they are required to carry draft cards, as well as Partridge’s rendition of How Big I’m Gonna Be, all of which add a touch of disillusionment to the generally bright atmosphere. Almgill’s performance of There Are Worse Things I Could Do, although initially rushed, should be considered the most goose-bump-inducing moment of the show.
In all of its outdated and problematic glory, Grease is what you would expect it to be. It oozes nostalgia and hair gel; the cast are extremely talented, which makes the better known songs the hits that we expect them to be. Whilst its messaging on conformity and changing yourself to fit in is as outdated as poodle skirts, this musical is perfect for anyone wishing for a short trip into the 1950s.