Also with: Charlotte Avery, Richard Calkin, Glenn Carter, John Combe, Liz Ewing, Tamzin Outhwaite, Shane Richie, Heather Robbins, Myra Sands, Aidan Treays , Anna-Jane Casey, Robin Cleaver, Amanda Courtney-Davies, Derek Joshua Cullen, James Davies, Simon Harper, Daniel Hinchliffe, Kim Leeson, Lucy Moorby, Ben Richards, Sebastien Torkia, Nikki Worrall, Janine Davies, Sue Eastwood, Steen Young, Simon Coulthard.
Whether it’s better than ever is debatable, but “Grease” has certainly never been more overproduced and noisier than in this West End revival. On the strength of two leads with a teenage following (Australian soap star Craig McLachlan and American pop singer Debbie Gibson) and the inclusion of four songs from the successful movie version, “Grease” has emerged as the hot musical ticket of the season some two decades after Jim Jacobs and Warren Casey’s show began life in a Chicago trolley barn.
That first production no doubt had a knockabout charm, which is precisely the quality missing from this rather lugubriously conceived package in which every last gum-chewing aside seems carefully calculated.
The story, such as it is, is unchanged: The summer lovers Danny (McLachlan) and Sandy (Gibson) go their separate routes at Rydell High until Sandy realizes the way to a man’s biceps lies in teased hair and leather. Their classmates say things like “bite the weenie, moron,” and the resident tough-cookie-with-a-soft-heart Rizzo (Sally Ann Triplett) is revealed not to be pregnant after all, even if talk of a broken condom sends a shiver through an audience in 1993.
The show’s raison d’etre is in the musical numbers, here strenuously choreographed in high-aerobics style by Arlene Phillips. (No wonder the opening night party was at a local YMCA.)
Amid the busier routines, one real gem emerges in the first act. “Mooning” is adorably led at the school bleachers by Drew Jaymson’s Roger. The songs from the movie stir the audience on cue, as Terry Parson’s lavishly kitschy sets struggle to keep pace alongside the odd laser effect seemingly left over from this same theater’s infamous mid-’80s tenant, “Time.”
Gibson cuts no sexier a presence than Olivia Newton-John did in the film. But as teen icons from that saga of Australian suburban life go, the self-mocking, swivel-hipped McLachlan has it all over the last well-scrubbed “Neighbors” face to grace the West End: Jason Donovan in the recent revival of “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat.” No doubt other “Neighbors” alums await packaging in future shows-as-rock concerts, but until they arrive, “Grease” will indeed be the word.