Is 'Grease' still the word?: 'Grease' cast and creatives on finding its hard-hitting truths
For a younger generation, the High School Musical trilogy of films are the ultimate American teen movies. They epitomise those idealistic adolescent moments: finding your love at high school, sleepovers with your besties, and forming lifelong bonds. However, the success of those 21st-century movies relies on the popularity of older teenage-led films which first captured the zeitgeist, and none managed it quite like Grease. The beloved story follows a group of Chicago high-schoolers as they balance romance and friendship with social pressures.
“We all know Grease as this certain thing. It’s very dear to a lot of us. I say 'us' because I’m part of the collective who are lowkey obsessed with Grease,” says Dan Partridge, who is currently playing the dream role of Danny in Grease at London's Dominion Theatre.
Certainly, there’s plenty in the current production for Grease film fans to enjoy. All the classic songs feature, like “Summer Nights,” “You’re the One That I Want” and more. Yet this Grease, which brings the show back to the Dominion for the first time in 29 years, takes on a new life of its own. The production comes with an injection of fresh storytelling that makes it more suited to today.
We sat down with Grease’s choreographer Arlene Phillips, as well as stars Dan Partridge and Olivia Moore, who play Danny and Sandy, to talk about a new 21st-century Grease vision and tapping into the show's hard-hitting truths.
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At a Grease preview event, producer Colin Ingram commented on how the production's youthful performers shine on stage. “I think one of the things that might strike you is that the cast is quite young and look like they belong in a high school — unlike the film. This will give it a vibrance that I think also has been lacking in the past.”
Once you see the Grease company step on stage at the Dominion Theatre, their youthfulness is definitely apparent. But don't let that fool you. These highly-skilled actors take on the iconic roles with aplomb. Even though many are either making their West End debuts in the show or stepping into lead roles for the first time, it's clear they're having the time of their lives.
This Grease cast are also looking to change the narrative to better suit a contemporary audience, supported by and in collaboration with the creative team.
“Grease has a certain colour: it’s bubblegum pink, it’s Hollywood,” explains Danny actor Dan Partridge. “We had an opportunity with this new production under [director] Nikolai Foster, who was all about taking this story and totally dissecting it to take it back to its roots before it became a Broadway musical. It was written in the early 1970s, and it was more of a play with a couple of songs, about what these kids were growing up with in the late Fifties.”
Choreogapher Arlene Phillips agrees. “Nikolai Foster has always been interested in making shows work for today in terms of diversity, inclusivity, and making it like what you’re putting on stage is the truth."
“So within this, he’s started to look at it and embody the original Grease and the story and the music of that original Grease, and bring the edginess to it. Nikolai likes to work with where the truths are, and researching deeply into what it was like to be a teenager – with many of them who had dads out of work, mums who stayed at home, a very different life to what we live today – and bringing that onto the stage.”
“It’s a new focus to look at important things that are embedded in this show. With that, it holds a lot of responsibility which we’ve focussed on. It’s been great,” adds Olivia Moore, who plays Sandy.
“It’s been really fun to dissect and put the emphasis on the things that we think are very important in this day and age,” continues Partridge. “We want to empower the female characters, we want to highlight the toxic masculinity of these male characters and how it can be jarring. We haven’t shied away from it. It’s been very important for us to keep that in.”
Photo credit: Grease (Photo by Manuel Harlan)
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