After SMS’s (Stage Musical Society) well-received production of West Side Story earlier this year, expectations were high for their latest production, Grease. Luckily, the audience was not disappointed.
After a stylistic opening from the quirky and well-voiced Vince Fontaine (Piers Cottee-Jones), the opening number, “Grease”, treated the audience to a well-executed, high energy performance. It was one of a number of excellent full company numbers, and throughout the show these were a highlight, utilising complex, impactful choreography to great effect through well-rehearsed ensembles – although some of the simpler moves were sometimes more effective and better synchronised. With brilliant orchestration throughout and exquisite vocal arrangements, the iconic songs sounded great and had everyone bouncing in their seats.
Of course, Grease’s two leads are key, both of whom were very well acted. Danny’s (Michael Ahomka-Lindsay) idiosyncratic motions and iconic “Elvis-styled” quirks were a treat, while Sandy (Amy Gardener) was played with an apt innocence, contrasting well with her later transformation in “You’re the One That I want”, although this could have been a subject of greater focus. Impressive vocals and vibrato throughout made listening to them both a pleasure, and they were instrumental in injecting charm and a level of familiarity to this well-known musical.
Outside of the leads, the Burger Palace Boys and Pink Ladies were impressively cast by the production team and delivered in their unique characterisation. A standout performance came from too-cool-for-school Rizzo (Becky Downing) – delivering my now-favourite renditions of “Look at me, I’m Sandra Dee” and “There are worse things I could do” – however the quirky tonality of Frenchie (Sophie Roberts), which fit perfectly, and Jan’s (Sophie Rush) comedic delivery, which had the audience in stiches on a number of occasions, should not be overlooked. The latter of these performances was complemented well through a collaboration with goofy Roger (Zac Cohen) during “Mooning”, which was a real comedic highlight even if the stage did seem slightly over-crowded. Marty (Jessica Price), too, was able to distinguish herself from the other Pink Ladies particularly well through the portrayal of a sexy, flirty persona.
Perhaps the most standout feature of the casting was its lack of a weak link – the other principle roles were performed to a high standard, ensuring the production was fun and well-paced, in large part. However, possibly due to my over-eagerness to get to the musical numbers, I did feel like the tempo could have picked up slightly during some dialogue scenes – although this didn’t detract from the well-acted sequences. It was also notable how smaller roles were not overshadowed and were played with finesse and confidence, particularly the parts of Patty Simcox (Hannah Colthup) and Eugene (Samir Idrissi).
Worthy of special mention is Sam Mccagherty’s version of “Beauty School Dropout”, whose stunning vocals were particularly enjoyable thanks to a lack of – for want of a better word – “cheese”. This tends to be a common directorial mistake, so Directors India Plummer and Jessica Price should be praised for opting instead to make this a more refined number.
With a well-utilised set (especially the graduating staircases and television screen) and generally swift scene changes, this production really did excel in portraying a musical of this calibre. Props, too, were a delight, with the highly-anticipated ensemble performance of “Greased Lightnin’” – led by Kenickie (Max Woodall), in his best performance of the night – benefiting from a car provided by TheatreProps, on top of some masterful lighting. Although microphone volumes could’ve been louder at times as the odd line was missed, it really was hard not to smile throughout and appreciate the work of the Directors and all involved backstage.
Overall, this was a brilliant production and for both die-hard Grease fans and newcomers, the cast excelled in delivering a high-energy punch, without departing too far from the much-loved familiarity of Grease. In SMS’s case, Grease was most definitely the word.
Images courtesy of Rob Palin