If you don’t like the idea of joining an entire audience mimicking John Travolta’s nasal “Naahhh-iiights” at the end of the Grease Megamix (or you don’t know what the Grease Megamix is), this musical is probably not for you.
Grease is an exercise in nostalgia, whether that was the original 1971 musical harking back to the 1950s, or current audiences revelling in memories of Travolta and Olivia Newton-John. Sandy’s transformation might be Grease’s most iconic moment, but change isn’t really what this show is about – its world of unreconstructed sexism, innumerable pelvic thrusts and a heroine who only gains currency when she dons tight leather trousers is not being reinvented for the 21st century.
Nonetheless, Nikolai Foster’s production is brightly entertaining and blasts out room-filling energy in its big dance numbers by choreographer Arlene Phillips, with tight formations of sharp, rhythmic 50s motifs. The cast sing the film’s theme song like a manifesto, full of rebellion and disaffection, and this version does draw on Jim Jacobs and Warren Casey’s grittier 1971 script and score. Some of those songs are forgettable, but Danny’s How Big I’m Gonna Be offers a glimmer of self-awareness after all his cool-kid posturing. Mooning, a sweet falling-in-love between two minor characters, showcases the soaring falsetto of Noah Harrison.
Star casting comes in the shape and soft pop voice of Peter Andre, who plays DJ Vince Fontaine minus the sleaze. Jocasta Almgill’s Rizzo has bite, presence and ultimately depth – she’s the real female lead – but there’s little draw in the central love story as Danny and Sandy barely have anything to do with each other. Individually, Olivia Moore as Sandy delivers a show-stopping Hopelessly Devoted to You, and Dan Partridge’s Danny nails that jumpy swagger that Travolta did so well, like an overexcited puppy pretending to be a big dog.
If there’s a theme here, it’s the desperation of these tough kids from the wrong side of Chicago’s tracks to appear invulnerable. The donning of protective attitude; safety in the clique. For all that this show is based in caricature, there’s still some truth in that. But mainly, you come for the first-rate karaoke tunes.
• Grease is booking at the Dominion theatre, London, until 29 October.