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Review of Grease by the Northampton Musical Theatre Company at Royal & Derngate (Derngate), Northampton

The last two years have been an interesting path for the Northampton Musical Theatre Company at the Derngate. In 2014 their presentation of South Pacific was a remarkable feat which stood up so well in comparison with the soon to be professional staged Oklahoma! Then 2015 they took what might have been quite a gamble with a much less known title Sister Act, despite it being a huge film hit of the past, the musical was somewhat less known. It was a gamble that unquestionably paid off as the theatre was filled and it remains not just the very best amateur production of a musical I have seen, but superior in so many ways to professional touring shows.

So maybe, just maybe, 2016's decision to present Grease as their big show has got to be a disappointment. I myself up to seeing this show hadn't seen Grease in a theatre live, but a lot of people have and I have spoken to many who were not going to this simply because they are, in my own contortion of their thoughts Greased out. However, perhaps it still doesn't matter as the night I saw it, the Derngate was absolutely packed to the rafters and everyone was clapping, cheering, hand jiving and for one person almost falling out of their circle box. I wasn't quite with them, but I was still enjoying pretty much every minute in the presense of a 1000 plus Grease groupie.
The cast of Grease
Grease, most famous, and perhaps too famous for the 1978 film that catapulted John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John to fame, isn't quite the same beast on stage. The incredible songs from Jim Jacobs and Warren Casey are all there, but seeing it on stage shows what a really strange and lightweight show it is. Many of the songs don't really drive the story forward, what there is of a story, and it all sort of collapses in the second act into a musical concert with a bit of hand jiving. There are some also startling absences in the musical version, which do not really help, including the famous car race which makes the earlier performance and appearance of Greased Lightnin' null and void, as we never see this wonder car again at the race. Also the brilliant character of Eugene (an excellent Blake Robinson for what he has to perform) has been downgraded to be almost irrelevant. It all seems to leave a sort of half baked version of the famous film.

However despite all the negatives, what you do get it as always from NMTC, is a quite brilliantly presented and pretty much perfectly performed piece. The musical numbers are sublime, the sets are deliciously extravagant and cast and crew put everything into it at all times.
L-R: Susie Pack as Rizzo, Lotti Franks as Marty, Jay Snedkar as Jan, Hannah Taylor as Frenchy
From the cast the ever reliable Susie Pack as Rizzo and Dan Hodson as Kenickie are once again the driving force, with Susie giving a brilliantly performed There Are Worse Things I Could Do, while Dan absolutely nails the classic Greased Lightin'. Ella Styles also absolutely perfects the frantic fruitcake that is Patty and steals each scene she appears in with ease.
Rachel James as Sandy
However Grease for the best part is about Sandy and Danny, and Rachel James and George Johnston generally don't let the side down. Rachel wisely avoids trying to be too much like Newton-John and successfully plays it her own way and her performance of the challenging Hopelessly Devoted To You is simply gorgeous. George's Danny, I have got to be honest, didn't work quite as well for me. There was an awful lot of the cool and swagger missing from what I remember and feel Mr Zuko should have. Not a bad performance in anyway, but one that I really think could have been a bit more "yeah man!".
George Johnston as Danny
Director Martyn Knight brings it all togther brilliantly to fill the stage with the ensemble pieces filling the large stage. Scene shifting is once again handled swiftly and professionally as the pack of people shift the cleverly constructed set. This is complemented brilliantly with the wonderful vibrant colours and glowing backgrounds. Costumes also are sublime, helping create the absolute full package for the fifties world and a more professionally slick presentation than a few professionals tours I have seen. Finally special mention must go to musical director Graham Tear again, who with his ten strong band fill the theatre with those brilliant tunes.
Centre: Dan Hodson as Kenickie and cast
I feel sure that Grease still remains an odd choice for NMTC, especially as the group has to rely on actors playing well out of their age groups to perform. They succeed with aplomb, however I am not entirely sure Grease, in it relatively flimsy state, is worth that effort with so many other better shows out there to plunder. It still though remains an entertaining night out, and it clearly sells seats, but as someone who will remain nameless actually said to me about the show, "it's just Grease", and despite having written up a few of these reviews, I don't think I can sum it up any better than that.

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Performance reviewed: Thursday 27th October, 2016 at the Royal & Derngate (Derngate).

The Northampton Musical Theatre Company perform Grease until Saturday 29th October, 2016. They have a website which can be found at http://www.nmtc.me.uk/, while they are also on Twitter @theNMTC and Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/NorthamptonMusicalTheatreCompany

For further details about the Royal & Derngate visit their website at http://www.royalandderngate.co.uk/

Photos by redrex Photography

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