As Grease hand-jives its way into Newcastle (Mon 10 – Sat 15 Jun 2024) as part of its UK and Ireland tour, director Nikolai Foster promises: “It has all the moments you love from the film and the original but with some extra grit, guts, gravitas and spice!

Written by Jim Jacobs and Warren Casey, Grease opened in Chicago in 1971 and played on Broadway the following year, where it was nominated for seven Tony awards. It ran for eight years on Broadway and featured little-known (at the time) performers such as Patrick Swayze, John Travolta and Richard Gere.

When Grease had its 1973 London premiere at the Dominion Theatre, Richard Gere starred as Danny Zuko, then, of course, Travolta played Danny in the 1978 blockbuster film version opposite Olivia Newton-John as Sandy Olsson. The name-change from Sandy Dumbrowski wasn’t the only tweak; Sandy was now Australian to accommodate Newton-John’s accent, the Burger Palace Boys were renamed the T-Birds, some songs were jettisoned, the story was relocated to sunny California and its harder edges were softened.

This production – which has toured the country and enjoyed sold-out summer seasons in the West End – reinstates the names, the location, the toughness and some of the songs, alongside such favourites as Summer NightsHopelessly Devoted To You and You’re the One That I Want.

Of the reinstated numbers, the director, Nikolai Foster, (whose extensive CV also includes White ChristmasAnnie and Beautiful Thing) explains: “They really give us a key to the feeling of the original show. I think the new-old songs are a nice surprise. They make you sit up and listen, hearing the whole show and something that is very familiar as if for the first time. It’s a terrific new flavour.”

The show is choreographed by Dame Arlene Phillips and designed by Colin Richmond, who help add to the realism as a contrast to the movie version. “The film was shot in sunny LA and is very much a candy floss vision of high school life,” Foster says. “Our Grease sets the show in its original Chicago location, where it’s much closer to real life and not quite as sunny!” He laughs. “Although Arlene’s astonishing choreography certainly has enough energy and verve to ignite a nuclear power reactor!” 

Heading the cast for the tour are Marley Fenton as Danny and Hope Dawe, making her professional debut as Sandy. They’rethrilled to be playing such iconic characters, with Marley saying: “It’s such an iconic show and such an iconic love story, so for us it’s about paying homage to a classic.”

For her part Hope says: “It’s all about playing someone who goes from being a girl to a woman over the course of the show and someone who can put on a different outfit at the end but who is still true to herself and her morals. She’s also a bit more fiery than she was in the film.”

Marley agrees that the stage version is grittier than people might expect. “You’ve got all that great music but there are serious themes going on too. There are tensions within the Pink Ladies and the Burger Palace Boys but it’s also a celebration of friendship, just as the song We Go Together proves. And ultimately it’s so much fun and such a feel-good show.” 

Hope concurs. “By the end everyone is on their feet for the megamix and they go away humming all those brilliant songs. Everyone loves Grease, don’t they?”

They’re both huge fans of Arlene Phillips. Marley smiles at the mention of her name. “Every time she walks into the room, there’s just this presence. She definitely puts us through our paces but the choreography is amazing.” Hope smiles too. “She’s very inspiring and she knows so much. She’s wonderful to be around.” 

Phillips herself says of the show: “It’s like seeing the film come to life, only edgier. I love the film but it is a fantasy of what real life in Chicago was like in 1958; a lot of people don’t know that this is a real story about real-life people. Only the names have been changed.”

Awarded a damehood in 2021 for her services to dance and charity, Arlene has been praised for her work on such shows as Starlight ExpressSaturday Night FeverWe Will Rock You and Guys and Dolls. She is a two-time Olivier nominee and was presented with a Special Recognition Olivier award in 2023, along with a WhatsOnStage trophy for the revival of Grease at the Dominion Theatre in London’s West End.

Arlene is in awe of the young cast. “They all have to be brilliant and to be triple threats. They have to sing and dance and act, and they bring so much energy to it. It feels like a giant party because everyone in the company is so excited to be doing this show.”

The excitement extends to the audience. “When they walk into the auditorium, they might have the weight of the world on their shoulders but as soon as the curtain goes up they’re drawn into this story. By the time they’ve joined in the party for the finale, standing up and singing along, they are filled with joy and it’s extraordinary to see the bounce in their steps as they leave the theatre.”

Grease plays Newcastle Theatre Royal Mon 10 – Sat 15 Jun 2024. Tickets can be purchased at or from the Theatre Royal Box Office on 0191 232 7010.

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