Danny Zuko - Liam Baker
Sandy Dumbrowski - Laura Bullimore
Betty Rizzo - Kia Long
Kenickie - Ben Robinson
Frenchy - Amy Sims
Roger - Tom Powell
Jan - Debbie Hiles
Marty - Megan Abbott
Doody - Bertie Ellison
Sonny - Ethan Robinson
Cha Cha - Emily Cole
Teen Angel - Tom Marshall
Johnny Casino - Tom Watson
Miss Lynch - Julie Long
Patty Simcox - Lucy Beeton
Eugene Floryczyk - Matt Kerslake
Vince Fontaine - Steve Brooks
Chorus - Katy Beeton, Georgia Smith, Gemma Laing, Tiggie Ellison, Ellie Fradley, Amy Thorpe, Rebecca Field, Reece Trott, Anna Pearson, Sam Thorpe, Cameron Lewis, Ian Gooda.
It is no accident that the 1978/1979 film version of this Broadway smash hit was voted most influential film of the 20th Century. It may be based in the 1950’s but the simple messages contained within it have had resonance with every teenager, in every decade since the end of the 70’s. More by luck than by judgement (I have read) Randal Kleiser’s film is almost perfect in every respect, and it is important, very important, to note that a lot of people (including Barry Norman) thought it was funny having all the actors up to ten years older than the characters they were playing, but as I took my seat at the wonderful Watlington Village Hall, I already had a feeling this was going to be important.
Maître D, Cyril Pike, was in fine form and his interior furnishings that are so much a part of any and every Watlington show. He had, on this occasion, spilled outside into the carpark as I found myself entering past a fine piece of North American engineering in the form of what I think was a Lincoln parked outside the front door. Genius! The hall looked very 50’s with the superb raked seating back, adding that big theatre feel to the auditorium. It was already common knowledge that just about all the evening performance seats were sold out so it was no surprise (and an absolute delight) that the place was heaving!
Before I say anything else, let there be no doubt, I had a great evening! It was fun and it was nostalgic and I got quite emotional in places. As usual at this venue the stage and backstage were full of close friends and I was proud of them all. The story should really need no retelling but just in case, it’s 1959 in small town America and the new school term is about to start. Boy meets girls out of context and then they part. Boy then meets girl again, but in his own environment where he has a reputation to maintain. It really is that simple and yet everyone seems to understand the complications and issues.
The set (designed by Tom Powell and decorated by Gemma Laing and friends) was nicely done with a second level coming in very handy for some of the larger routines. Costumes (Judy Parsons) were bang on as you would expect, with lighting and sound (Barry Ayres) outstanding as usual. At this point I have to make special mention of ‘Greased Lighting’, Kenickie’s car (Tom Powell) which was quite breath-taking and pretty much stole every scene it was in.
The chorus were all about with the girls looking a little more comfortable than the boys and certainly outnumbering them in most routines. In the cameo parts there was solid work from Steve Brooks as aging DJ and lothario Vince Fontaine, together with a nice showing from Tom Marshall as Teen Angel and Tom Watson as Johnny Casino with Mr Watson looking significantly more comfortable with his song.
In the supporting roles, Julie Long was great as School Principal, Miss Lynch and Matt Kerslake proved what a great comedy actor he is with a flawless, laugh-out-loud characterisation as nerd, Eugene. I liked Ethan Robinson as Sonny, and young Bertie Ellison was once again able to demonstrate his mighty stage presence in the part of Doody (even if Glandular Fever had seriously depleted his singing ability) although he still managed a nice rendition of “Those Magic Changes”.
It is always nice to see Amy Sims in any production and in the part of Frenchy she was top notch, managing to hide (at least from me) her current state of health until “Beauty School Dropout”!
The two main problems with this production need to be addressed now so I don’t keep having to repeat them and they were the standard of the male singing, and the lack of experience of the younger cast members. I will elaborate ….
One of a couple of inspirational casting choices was wonderful Megan Abbott as Marty. She looked great and sounded the same as she delivered a terrific “Freddy My Love” with her considerable experience helping all those around her. Now Kia Long is a really nice girl, and a pretty good actress who is developing into quite a performer and one of the highlights of the show was her excellent “There Are Worse Things I Could Do” which was sung to a very high standard. But in what became in the film the most pivotal role, Miss Long at 14 was just too young to be dirty, and as an antidote to sugary Sandy, Rizzo needs to be just that, and it allowed the part to be diminished. The very same is true of Ben Robinson as Kenickie who just lacked the experience to pull off the bad-boy role. Having said that Mr Robinson looked good and moved well throughout.
I know I have a weak spot for those Beetons but with Katy doing a great job in the chorus, Lucy was in fine form as Patty Simcox with both their voices adding to an already impressive female line-up. I also loved Emily Law who stepped up at the end to be Cha-Cha the dancer looking like she really did have some moves, helping up the octane for the “Hand Jive” dance competition finale.
And so to the leads. I don’t know Laura Bullimore, but as Sandy she sang beautifully and acted well enough, but never seemed to quite capture her character, or the relationship between Sandy and Danny, which caused a loss of impact most notably in the caterpillar to vamp metamorphosis.
Liam Baker on the other hand is well known to me and a very good friend and his characterisation really hit the spot. Mr Baker looked scarily like John Travolta and had enough charisma for the part together with plenty of stage presence. It was just the singing that let him down on occasions, which was a shame. I also felt he didn’t really manage to convey the Sandy and Danny Love story in the way I had hoped.
I have to come clean now and tell you I am an obsessive fan of the John Travolta/Olivia Newton John film. I can recite every line of dialogue and every word of every song. I have owned the album on vinyl (ask your parents), tape, CD and Itunes download and still play it regularly, so I am the last person you should invite to see a production. I am aware (before anyone reminds me) that this is live theatre and the rules are different, but it is the characters and the interaction of those characters that made the film so good and this production didn’t quite deliver in the same way. Which is why I must give penultimate paragraph honours to Tom Powell as Roger the championship mooner, and Debbie Bennett as ever hungry Pink Lady, Jan. Mr Powell also struggled with his vocals but his acting was amongst the best of the boys. Mrs Bennett however didn’t struggle with anything, singing like an angel and delivering a comedy masterclass in every scene. I found myself more interested in the Roger and Jan love story than the Danny and Sandy one that should have been central.
Before everyone reaches for the pitchforks and flaming torches I remind you of my opening statement, I had a great time and my compliments to Director, David Brammer for a tidy piece of direction and the delivery of an item of musical theatre that I am confident that everyone else will have loved as much as I did. Complimentary choreography by Penny Cooke was everything you could wish for and to Musical Director, Amy Power, I simply say what more than one cast member said to me, Amy took a very mediocre male vocal line up and turned it into something vastly superior to that, and whilst it may not have been the tour-de-force she had hoped for, without her hard work and dedication, it could have been much less, and so would the show!
(Regional Representative NODA Eastern Region – Area 4 North)
Last week, Watlington Village Hall was transformed into a little piece of Americana for the Watlington Players latest performance, Grease.
The stage musical (and its accompanying film version) has been a world-wide super phenomenon for the past forty years, and it’s only now that the rights to the show have been released for amateur performance.
Of course, you don’t need me to recount the story of Grease but, if you have been living under a rock since 1973, then the story goes like this:
When prim and proper Sandy and greaser rebel Danny fall in love over the summer, they never expect to see each other again. But when they find out that they’ll be attending Rydell High together in the fall, their differences threaten to ruin their relationship, and the memories of their beautiful summer together.
The popular musical was bound to be a big hit in West Norfolk and, sure enough, the hall was completely packed for the Saturday evening performance.
And director David Brammer’s high-energy, up-beat interpretation of the show was incredibly infectious, with both cast and audience having a fantastic time!
In fact, the show was much funnier than I had expected, and the slew of raunchy jokes frequently elicited knowing giggles from the older members of the audience. The seven year old sitting next to me had no idea what was going on – which was probably for the best.
Brammer did a great job wrangling the large ensemble cast and really capturing the spirit of teenage rebellion and infatuation. And, despite a couple of wonky moments, the Players managed to keep up their American accents throughout, and there was a really authentic camaraderie between the main actors, which made the story more believable for me.
Liam Baker was engaging and likeable as our hero Danny Zuko, while Laura Bullimore gave a pitch-perfect performance as Sandy. Kia Long was bolshy and brittle, but still intensely likeable, as Rizzo, while Amy Sims made an excellent Frenchie, and Megan Abbott was suitably ditzy as Marty. Debbie Bennett’s comic performance as Jan was on point, and she and Tom Powell (as Roger) were far and away my favourite on-stage pairing.
Tough-talking Kenickie was played with relish by Ben Robinson, and Bertie Ellison brought a certain sweetness to the role of Doody, while Ethan Robinson played the sex-obsessed Sonny with great comic timing.
Lucy Beeton was marvellous as the insufferably chipper cheerleader Patty, and Matthew Kerslake as well-cast as nerdy kid Eugene. Emily Law’s excellent dancing skills were put to good use in her role as Cha-cha, and Steve Books oozed creepiness in his role as the lecherous radio DJ Vince Fontaine.
Julie Long gave a great performance as the long-suffering headmistress, Miss Lynch, and Tom Watson and Tom Marshall both gave very capable performances (as Johnny Casino and Teen Angel, respectively).
The chorus roles were played by Amy Thorpe, Anna Pearson, Cameron Lewis, Ellie Fradley, Gemma Laing, Georgia Smith, Ian Gooda, Katy Beeton, Rebecca Field, Reece Trott, Sam Thorpe, and Tiggie Ellison.
What really made this production for me was the musical numbers, which were directed by Amy Power, with choreography by Penny Cooke. The energetic, full-cast numbers were particularly good, and really got the audience dancing in their seats!
The costumes at Watlington shows always impress, and this production was no exception, with full fifties skirts and leather jackets aplenty, courtesy of Judy Parsons and assistant Eileen Cook. Barry Ayres was at the helm for Lighting and Sound, and the sets were also pretty striking this time around, with props by Mandi Field, and the impressive Grease Lightning car, fabricated by Tom Powell. Finally, I must give a mention to stage manager Seamus Power and his team Richard Bennett and Susan Power, without whom, the show would not exist.
A fun and familiar tale, bursting with energy, the Watlington Players’ version of Grease is definitely the one that I want. (Oooh oooh ooh, honey.)
Danny and Sandy fall for each other during a carefree summer fling. But when the school year begins, Danny is torn between his feelings for good-girl Sandy and his image with the T-Birds and the Pink Ladies. The stage show features most of the songs you will be familiar with from the movie so it's going to be a lot of fun!
Director - David Brammer
Choreographer - Penny Cooke
Musical Director - Amy Power