Review: ‘Grease’

By Oscar Duffy

Grease is a beloved musical, possibly one of the most famous of all time, and a regular fixture for student productions. Everyone knows the premise: Danny and Sandy end a summer of romance by encountering each other at school, surrounded by friends and other external pressures. The story is a classic, and Feather Theatre Company have produced an adaptation that admittedly takes relatively few risks stylistically and aesthetically. Indeed, the staging is minimal, and choreography faithful to the original production. Yet arguably this was a wise decision. Director Lauren Spowart allows the quality of the music and the talent of the performers to speak for themselves, and as a result, Grease is energetically and slickly performed, and will inevitably leave theatre goers entertained and invigorated. 

At some points however, it seemed as though this wouldn’t be the case. Indeed, the opening number, ‘Grease is the Word’, lacked the energy needed to kick open the show. This could have been a classic case of first night nerves, but it cast a shadow over what went on to become much more entertaining. It must also be said that the dancing throughout is the weakest aspect of the production. While Christy Cheung and Caitlin Large’s choreography makes a great effort to produce plenty of vibrant dances which skilfully make use of an extensive ensemble, occasionally, they are let down by performers struggling to keep up with each other and often forgetting sequences of steps. It was a shame, as moments which should be highlights such as ‘The Hand Jive’ are let down by an ensemble out of sync. The most egregious example is ‘You’re the One That I Want’, usually a show stopping number, but one that suffered dance mishaps in the performance I attended and generally feels less cohesive as a number. 

The solo numbers are where the show makes up for its weaker dance aspects

The obvious skill that the cast have is on full display however in the majority of vocal performances throughout the production, and the solo numbers are where the show makes up for its weaker dance aspects. Particular highlights include Aoife Walter’s fantastic rendition of ‘There are Worse Things I Could Do’. Rizzo is a character which can often become one note, but Walter injects a vulnerability to the hard exterior. That same nuance is present in Nina Hayward’s ‘Hopelessly Devoted to You’. It truly is the highlight of Sandy’s time on stage and these two prominent female characters are the vocal standouts among the musical’s leads. 

He embraces the campy 50s energy

Smaller cameo performances also provide for some of the most musically dynamic moments. Alex Dingley is particularly compelling in his small but memorable appearance as Teen Angel. He embraces the campy 50s energy of the piece, donning a white suit and strutting the stage while always hitting the tough notes. The music is the show’s core strength and the cast bring their A-game in this department, arguably the main one that matters. 

The songs are aided by a flawless band, and credit should go to Musical Directors Josh Gordon and Ollie Fab for making the music the centrepiece of the show. But the cast are able to keep up the quality in dialogue scenes. Accents are strong across the board, and everyone injects an indefatigable energy to each of their scenes. The script is mostly cheesy, but the performers acknowledge this and capitalise on the campy fun that can be gained from it. 

In all, Grease doesn’t reinvent the wheel when it comes to adaptations of this particular musical, and indeed, more work needs to be done in the group dance numbers. But it delivers where it matters in the vocal performances. If you can get past the weaker elements, then you should have a good time. 

See Grease on the 28th and 29th of Feb at 7:30pm, in Caedmon Hall.

Image: taken from the FTC’s Facebook page

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