Grease The Musical, The Grand Opera House, Belfast, October 26, 2021

By Conor O’Neill

It’s 1959 and the cool kids of Rydell High are returning from summer break to start the new school year. The Grand Opera House is packed to the rafters; among the 1000 plus sitting in the beautifully restored theatre, are some super fans to be found in Pink Ladies’ attire. As for us fellas – we were definitely the minority – did not come as The Burger Palace Boys. Who could pull off such fab quiffs and look as cool as baby boomers of late 50s?

My memories of Grease is of course the 1978 movie with the T-Birds being the gang you’d want to hang with. And this production is a not far cry of that iconic film my older sister compulsively watched on VHS.

The main theme throughout the original musical and the book, music and lyrics by Jim Jacobs and Warren Casey still holds credence to most parts of the famous flick. Teenage rebellion juxtaposed with conformity, inexperience, trial and error, the fear and threat of authority, whether it be in the form of the notorious Miss Lynch or the gang-hating torchlight-wielding copper who strikes both fear and defiance from The Burger Palace Boys.

Central to the tale is quite simple. Boy meets girl during a summer of teen love, then mishaps and distractions as the two are pulled in different directions as peer pressure, a need to find oneself, indecision and teenage arrogance pull and push them apart.

Of course I’m writing about Sandy and Danny.

Sandy’s Catholic innocence is matched by Danny’s man-about-town bravado. But there’s a tad more to Danny Zuko’s confidence. Like most, if not all teens, his desire to be liked undercuts his slicked back quiff and leather jacket. He has to be seen by his peers as a cool mofo.

Ignoring Sandy’s previous and innocent advances the first act focuses mainly on the trivialities of youth anguish, hope and love. With some pretty funny scenes worthy of note. Sandy’s first smoke and drink, how the audiences beloved Frenchy actually got her nickname; Kenickie’s banger of a muscle car – well, maybe one day – and the ever menacing presence of chief cheerleader and all-round goody-two-shoes Patty’s influence on Danny and the rest of Rydell High’s silent majority.

Danny wrestles with his passions for Patty and a life of normality and the unbridled love of the rebellious Burger Palace Boys all the while with Sandy at the back of his mind. Who and what will win out?

The second act steps things up a notch. We’ve the Hand Jive Halloween Ball to look forward to. And herein lies one of director Nikolai Foster and choreographer Arlene Phillips’ best moments. The full ensemble’s dance competition, introduced and arguably stolen by WAXX radio’s disc-spinning Vince Fontain. These few minutes of unadulterated brilliance. The band are in the pit and every move from the big show musical canon are on show as the audience danced in its seat.

For a big tune based musical there are tender moments. Roger ‘Rump’s fear of being overweight; Frenchy’s return after her attempt of training to be a beautician; Sonny’s miserable attempts of getting the ladies always failing in spite of his self belief and most touchingly, Rizzo’s torment as she waits on her ‘best friend’ arriving. Little wonder this musical has a 12 rating.

But, and whether you’re a fan of the film – count me in – or a seasoned veteran of the musical, everyone’s been waiting on the transformation. And when it comes, the joy in the theatre is palpable. Sandy kicks off that claustrophobic exterior, and embraces the Lycra clad siren we’ve all been waiting for… and Danny boy is home!

A big medley to end with. A standing ovation and 1040 people leave the Grand Old Opera House smiling from ear to ear.

Grease The Musical runs at the Grand opera House until and including Saturday October 30 with matinees on Wednesday, Thursday and Saturday at 230pm.

For booking information visit http://www.goh.co.uk or ring the box office on 02890 241919

ENDS

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