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Review of Grease The Musical at The Marlowe Theatre, Canterbury, featuring Peter Andre

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Gritty and edgy are not usually words associated with the saccharine sweetness of Grease.

But Grease the Musical, which has opened at The Marlowe in Canterbury, is a world away from the soppier elements of the film which still influence our thoughts on the story.

Peter Andre as Teen Angel in Grease, Photo: Hugo Glendinning
Peter Andre as Teen Angel in Grease, Photo: Hugo Glendinning

Yet this possibly wasn't the main reason the audience had worked themselves up into high excitement on Monday night.

If any were like me, they'd booked to see this in winter 2020 and then waited a year for this performance after it was postponed from last August as lockdowns sent stage schedules into chaos. So anticipation had built up.

And that's before we even get onto a certain Mr Andre - who enjoys a dedicated following.

This includes my cousin, who has seen him live five times and whose favourite birthday gift of all-time is a fake OK! magazine cover announcing her engagement to Peter, created in 2010.

Peter Andre in action as Vince Fontaine
Peter Andre in action as Vince Fontaine

Monday night brought a crowd of around 1,100 to the Marlowe, and several women donned their best Pink Ladies jackets.

We'll come back to Peter, who plays Teen Angel and Vince Fontaine, in a moment, as he very much complements the performance rather than dominates it.

Thanks to the 1978 film, Grease became synonymous with John Travolta's Danny, Olivia Newton-John's Australian Sandy and the sun-kissed beaches of California.

Yet the original story of the Rydell High School teens trying to find their way in 1959 America amid issues of sex, love, betrayal, bullying and angst was set in Chicago and Nikolai Foster's stage version restores the action to the American Midwest.

Danny Zuko is part of The Burger Palace Boys, rather than the T-Birds and, as Sandy suggests, is on the cusp of not achieving anything much with his life. That bravado is captured by Dan Partridge through his songs and dialogue.

Sandy and Danny get together
Sandy and Danny get together

Working-class Sandy is American Sandy Dumbrowski, her surname fitting with the original ethos of the story depicting the struggles of immigrant children wanting to rebel against conformity and suburbia.

Georgia Louise conveys the goody two-shoes Sandy testing her limits, interspersed with some powerful solo performances.

It's grittier than the Grease we're used to, aided by an urban set design capturing the atmosphere of the streets and a slightly run-down city school.

Oh and there's references which include: 'slamming the ham' as the merits of the opposite sex are discussed by the boys, generating huge laughs.

The film focussed on the Danny and Sandy love story, but on stage we get a much fuller picture of the lives of the main ensemble such as Kenickie's subtle affection for Rizzo, Marty's engagement to a Marine, and the quirky Frenchy's short-lived beauty school ambitions.

Peter Andre as Teen Angel in Grease, which is showing at The Marlowe
Peter Andre as Teen Angel in Grease, which is showing at The Marlowe

While the dialogue is edgy - on that note look out for the treatment of Sandy by the Pink Ladies, led by a particularly acerbic, yet ultimately vulnerable Rizzo, played by Tendai Rinomhota - we are of course here for the songs too.

The classics are all in there alongside new 'old' songs (as the director himself dubs them). We have The Burger Palace Boys 'Tattoo Song', the hilarious 'Mooning' a duet between Roger (Josh Barnett) and Jan (Maeve Byrne) and a powerful belting of 'Freddy My Love', led by Inez Budd's Marty, with Jan, Frenchy and Rizzo.

It's the start of Act Two which sees Peter Andre's role go in Fontaine's own words: 'Pedal to the metal.' It's the night of the school dance and the numbers are Shakin at the High School Hop and Hand Jive.

Now centre-stage Andre's Fontaine marshals the energy of judging the winners and being at the centre of that heady mix of relationships being formed and shattered during a night everyone's spent months anticipating.

The audience loved it and if there's always something to look out for on stage, that'll be thanks to the work of Strictly judge and choreographer Arlene Phillips.

The cast of Grease perform the Megamix
The cast of Grease perform the Megamix

So, some stand out moments from the Grease the Musical: Roger and Jan's Mooning duet, Peter Andre being drenched in hairspray as Teen Angel during Beauty School Drop Out.

And then you have a chance to take all the photos you want and stand up and dance during the Megamix at the finale.

And our group's personal favourite moment: The long pause at the end of Summer Nights where the audience got there first with shouting out 'Uhhhh' (those Summer Nights) before the cast could, leading to laughs from those on stage.

One note about Monday's performance: Act two was paused for technical reasons for around five minutes. The pause meant we skipped the 'There are Worse Things I could Do' solo from Rizzo and we did not see the actress back on stage, so we send our best wishes and hope all is ok. There was huge clapping and whooping when the action returned.

In summary, those who love Grease or Peter Andre shouldn't be disappointed.

A panoramic view of Canterbury from The Marlowe Theatre's top-floor Barretts Bar
A panoramic view of Canterbury from The Marlowe Theatre's top-floor Barretts Bar

It's high energy, body-shaking fun and the Grease from an era of the birth of rock and roll as teenagers began finding their way just before the full-blown revolution of the 1960s.

As we filed out, we wondered how do you top this for a family member who has a fake OK! cover pretending you're going to marry Peter Andre? You stand outside the Stage Door until gone 10.30pm hoping to catch a glimpse.

Spoiler: We didn't.

Grease runs until Saturday, August 14, at The Marlowe, Canterbury. More details here

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