I was recently asked if I would like to sample the Christmas menu at Bundobust and write a review. Well, that took a lot of thinking about! I decided to go when the place was quiet and so scheduled it to coincide with Grease at The Grand, thus having a proper evening out with pre-show meal followed by the show itself.

What has that got to do with anything I hear you ask, well, Bundobust is a vegetarian/vegan restaurant which makes the very best of plant based food rather than trying to replicate meat dishes, by the end of the evening I had the same feeling about Grease – The Musical. The show was its own interpretation of the book, music and lyrics by Jim Jacobs and Warren Casey rather than a copy of the iconic film. The action has been switched back to Chicago from California and the two lead characters are not doing impressions of Olivia Newton-John and John Travolta. I cannot help but applaud them for that.

The show was definitely a game of two halves, the first being a somewhat contrived scene setting exercise whereas the second was the much more fluid conclusion of the tale. I found the fast-talking and posturing to set up the characters a little hard to follow, not to say slightly annoying, but once the stage had been set, so to speak, the story could unfold in its own entertaining way.

Dan Partridge as Danny and Alisha-Marie Blake as Cha Cha. Photograph by Sean Ebsworth Barnes

The action is set in 1959 and tells of a wannabe Marlon Brando (Danny) who falls for a Doris Day figure (Sandy) during the summer break from school. In the show Sandy is compared to Sandra Dee but her shelf life was so short that hardly anyone remembers her now. When the next term begins Sandy has transferred to Danny’s school, but, as she doesn’t fit in with his cool image he tries to ignore her, even though it is obvious he still has feelings for her. The feeling is reciprocated and there follows a cat and mouse game which – spoiler alert – ends with them getting together.

In the final analysis the story is just something on which to hang the wonderful music, this stage version being more of a juke box musical than a narrative piece. In addition to the well known songs there were new ones added, some of which worked better than others, but they all led up to the grand finale Megamix which got the audience on their feet clapping, singing and dancing. Fortunately I had had a steroid injection in my knee the day before and so I was able to throw some shapes without too much pain. I am sure my moves were much appreciated and admired by those in the rows behind me.

Paul French (centre) as Kenickie and The Burger Palace Boys. Photograph by Sean Ebsworth Barnes

The show started late due to ‘technical issues’ and there were several cast changes announced which were done too quickly to catch, but the photographs in the programme helped. On the subject of the cast, the only big name is Peter Andre who only appears in certain performances, which are well publicised on the website. He was not gracing us on this occasion but his parts of Teen Angel and Vince Fontaine were brilliantly covered by Jacob Fisher. Danny was played by Dan Partridge channelling his inner Fonzie whilst understudy Laura-Jane Fenney took the part of Sandy. Both were excellent with Ms Fenney’s voice superb. I thought that the dancing, especially in the first half was a bit loose but in the second it all came together, possibly because there were more set pieces. The cast changes means that the photographs included in this piece do not cover all those involved, sadly that includes Laura-Jane Fenney and Jacob Fisher.

Tendai Rinomhota as Rizzo. Photograph by Sean Ebsworth Barnes

The direction by Nikolai Foster was very inventive and involves a large team of specialists to execute. The set was in a constant state of flux with two flights of stairs being moved around and an elevated DJ installation to the rear. There was a gossamer screen to the front of the stage at the beginning to accommodate rear projection whilst the audience was still able to see the action.

Apart from the three above mentioned characters, Grease – The Musical is an ensemble piece with a huge cast. Some were more prominent than others but all added very well to the overall experience, which was one of fun and exuberance.

The Megamix. Photograph by Stan Graham. We were ‘instructed’ to take photos of this part of the show.

Credit must also be heaped upon the band under Musical Director Dan Glover who played seemingly non-stop throughout the evening.

After a shaky start I found Grease – The Musical to be a great night’s entertainment. Nothing profound just good old fashioned fun, and what else could you ask for on a wet November night after the announcement of new Covid restrictions!

Grease – The Musical runs until Saturday 4th December and Peter Andre is scheduled to be in all the remaining shows. For more details and to buy tickets please go to https://leedsheritagetheatres.com/whats-on/grease/

Feature image supplied by Leeds Heritage Theatres.

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