Grease at Wolverhampton Grand – Good Fun

A new touring production of the classic musical Grease opened at the Wolverhampton Grand Theatre last night, and although it was a real crowd pleaser with the appreciative audience simply loving it, you may not recognise all the songs and scenes if you are a fan of the musical film version.

There can’t be anyone (my husband aside) who hasn’t seen the film version of this much loved musical at least once. The story of a holiday romance between Danny and Sandy, that is hampered by Danny’s ego and friends, and Sandy’s squeaky clean persona when she just happens to start at his school, Rydall High, after the summer, is one that is known and loved. Add in a score of memorable supporting performances from the likes of Rizzo, Kenickie and Frenchie and a score of sublime, singalong songs, and you have the failsafe recipe for success. Or maybe not.

The problem with this version of Grease is that some of the leads are not quite up to the roles. Danielle Hope is the standout as Sandy, her beautiful voice soars on ‘Hopelessly Devoted to You’, and she has Sandy’s saccharine sweetness off to a tee. She was born to play this role and does so with ease. Her Danny Zuco is not quite as successful. Tom Parker handles the acting scenes quite well, showing plenty of personality. He is also a talented dancer, showing off his skills during the sublime Hand Jive scene. Where he struggles is the vocals, he is just not up to the demands of the songs, Sandy in particular is painful to watch and listen to.

Louisa Lytton has her moments as Rizzo, her poise is so good in the opening scene, and her performance of ‘There are worse things I can do’ is plaintive and touching. But ‘Sandra Dee’ has none of the bite and sarcasm that Stockard Channing showed in the same role, and suffers as a result.

The supporting cast are great though, Tom Senior is a fine Kenickie and ‘Greased Lightnin’  is brilliantly performed. Rhiannon Chesterman is perfect as Frenchie, and her ‘Beauty School dropout’ scene is another standout, with George Olney super as the teen angel, playing it with his tongue firmly in cheek. Eugene (Callum Edwards), Jan (Rosanna Harris) and Doody (Ryan Heenan) are all funny and scene stealing, whilst Sonny and Marty (Michael Cortez and Lauren Atkins) both make the most of their roles.

The staging of the musical numbers is great, and having a live band on the stage is a real plus point, but ultimately the story feels very disjointed – Sandy seems to only have one date with Danny throughout the musical, and on all other occasions when she meets him he acts like a complete jerk, making it difficult to understand why she would make such a transformation for this guy, she should stick to her twee frock and make a move for Kenickie instead.

Grease has great songs, great supporting performances and a lovely lead in Danielle Hope, but it could have been so much more.

 

Tue 28 Nov – Sat 2 Dec

GREASE

Wolverhampton Grand

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Funny Girl – A Star Is Born in Natasha J Barnes

It’s an old cliché, maybe from 42nd Street, that you go on a stage unknown and walk off a star. That is what happened at the Wolverhampton Grand Theatre last night, when Natasha J Barnes, taking on the role of Fanny Brice made famous by Barbara Streisand, gave the performance of her life in ‘Funny Girl’, It echoed another role that Streisand starred in, because truly, a Star was Born.

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Funny Girl has been theatres most recent phenomenon, with Sheridan Smith winning huge plaudits for her performance as Ziegfeld star Fanny Brice. When Sheridan faced a period of illness and personal trouble, Natasha J Barnes took over the role, and she is frankly astounding in it. Her voice is powerful and emotive, her acting is flawless, and her chemistry with co-star Darius Campbell is a joy to watch, especially on their poignant duet ‘Who are you now?’

The story of Fanny Brice, and her love for Nick Arnstein is a tale that is both hilarious and heartbreaking. Fanny had an almost meteoric rise to fame as a genuine ‘Funny Girl,’ becoming a major star in the Ziegfeld Follies (her performance in Glorification of the American Bride is so, so funny.) Along the way she meets and falls in love with the handsome gambler Nick Arnstein and they marry and have a child. Life seems perfect for the star and her man, but Nick’s financial fortunes take a downward step, and Fanny’s need to help and protect him lead to Nick feeling stifled and taking actions that threaten to destroy them both.

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The performance of Natasha J Barnes is superb. Her note perfect performances of the key songs, ‘People’ and ‘Don’t rain on my parade’ are just wonderful, and she is one of those rare performers who can make you laugh out loud, and then try to hide those tears in the same performance. She is matched by her perfect co-star, Darius Campbell, now a world away from ‘Popstars’, he gives a charismatic, sensual performance as Nick. You love how he genuinely loves Brice, and really want his character to turn his fortunes around, a testament to his portrayal. It is hard to think of anyone else who could play Nick with the style and panache of Campbell.

Funny Girl is a stunning piece of musical theatre that charms, entertains and resonates in equal measures. It is one of the must see shows in theatre today. Don’t miss it.

Funny Girl

Wolverhampton Grand Theatre

TUE 25 JUL – SAT 29 JUL

Click here for ticket information

The Sound of Music triumphs at Wolverhampton Grand

The hills were alive last night, as The Sound of Music celebrated a tremendous opening night at the Wolverhampton Grand Theatre. The classic, some might say ultimate, Rogers and Hammerstein musical shows no signs of losing its evergreen popularity, with a full house in attendance to watch the remarkable story of the Von Trapp family singers, and their escape from Nazi occupied Austria through the power of song. Although liberties have been taken with their story, the power of the telling of the tale, and the wonderful soaring songs means that the audience is totally swept away by the charm offensive. The Sound of Music is just beautiful, it is as simple as that.

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Much credit must be given to the perfect cast. Lucy O’Byrne is a lovely Maria, giving the lead character all the spirit and personality the role requires, with the sweetest, crystal clear singing voice that does bring Julie Andrews to mind. She has a wonderful chemistry with the children, and also with her leading man. Andrew Lancel plays the brooding, damaged Captain Von Trapp, a role that can often seem like a thankless role, a straight man surrounded by captivating singing children and nuns, but in Lancel’s careful hands we have a charismatic turn that delivers the most emotional moment, his voice cracking with pure heartbreak during the exquisite Edelweiss.

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The children are just lovely. So often The Sound of Music is characterised as being the most saccherine of Rogers and Hammerstein musicals, but the children in this revival are wonderful – funny, charming and so sweet. In particular, Anne Holland is superb as the oldest girl Liesl, perfect as a young girl on the cusp of womanhood, finding she may not need a governess, but she definitely needs a friend. Her duet with Rolf (Kane Verrall) on ‘Sixteen going on Seventeen’ is one of the highlights of the first act, youthful charm personified.

The Nuns are just brilliant, with the Mother Abbess (Jan Hartley) just stunning, especially when performing the incredible ‘Climb Ev’ry Mountain’, and the set is almost another member of the cast, with amazing transformations that allow you to believe you are in a Cathedral, or a beautiful Austrian chateau.

The Sound of Music is a thing of beauty, a show that shouldn’t be missed.

The Sound of Music

Wednesday 5th – Saturday 8th October

Wolverhampton Grand Theatre

Click here for ticket information.