Thursday, 17 April 2014

Review: Cool Rider at the Duchess Theatre

Cool Rider
Duchess Theatre
Reviewed on Wednesday 16th April 2014

I woke up this morning thinking 'did that really happen?' Following the overwhelming sell-out success of the one-night-only staging of Cool Rider (known to some as Grease 2) at the Lyric Theatre earlier this year, the show has returned to the West End, running at the Duchess Theatre for just seven performances.

This concert staging (scenes are performed statically at the front of the stage) captures all the magic and important elements of the film. I must admit, despite being vaguely aware of the film, I had absolutely no idea that it had such a HUGE cult following!

Mark Benton and Niki Evans

The atmosphere was unlike anything I have ever experienced before - most people seemed to know every line and every lyric, taking great joy in stealing lines from some of the cast and joining in with iconic moments, resulting in some interesting reactions from the cast (and bewildered audience members who didn't have a clue what was going on). 

Set in 1961 (two years after the original Grease gang became seniors), Ashleigh Gray stars as Stephanie, the new leader of the Pink Ladies. After ending her relationship with T-Bird Johnny Nogerelli, played by Stewart Clarke who returns to his comfort zone as the school bully, Stephanie embarks on an unexpected journey with British student Michael, played by Aaron Sidwell. 

Ashleigh Gray
The cast are tremendous, making the most of what they've been given; I had no inkling that it was only their second show or that rehearsal time had been limited. It's wonderful to see Loserville stars Stewart Clarke and Aaron Sidwell reunited on stage, both giving fantastic performances and proving popular with the audience who scream and yell "get off" in all the right places.

It's so exciting to see Ashleigh Gray doing something completely different, she owns the stage in style! Fresh from her latest stint as Elphaba in Wicked, Gray is bursting with natural talent.  She wasn't phased by the heckling and people joining in with her lines. Gray's rendition of the title number (involving a ladder) is not something I will forget in a hurry! Gray's vocals are always sublime and her voice fits the score perfectly.

Other stand out performances come from Mark Benton and Niki Evans as the inappropriate yet hysterical teachers Mr Stuart and Ms Mason. The T-Birds and Pink Ladies have some fantastic moments (I particularly enjoyed Joshua Dowen and Bronté Barbé's number), but a special mention must go to the formidable Hannah Levane who is back in the West End where she belongs! I have never seen anybody own a stage and take control of an audience like Levane - she is a theatrical genius! 

The musical numbers are ridiculous, simply ridiculous. The score features some of the catchiest songs ever written. Almost every number is reprised during the final megamix and I realised that I practically knew every word of every song - I loved it!

Joshua Dowen and Bronté Barbé

If you are a Cool Rider fan there is NO WAY you can miss this concert production! However, even if you aren't obsessed with Cool Rider you will still have a great night, become caught up in the electric atmosphere and leave humming all the songs. The entire audience jumped to their feet for the finale (joining Su Pollard who was on her feet dancing the night away for, what felt like, half the second act) and seemed to leave the Duchess feeling utterly uplifted.

I still don't have a clue what I witnessed and I still don't have a clue what all these cult followers have been doing for the past 30 years, but Cool Rider is nothing short of irresistible fun!

Reviewed by Andrew Tomlins (Editor)

Cool Rider runs at the Duchess Theatre until Saturday 19th April 2014.
Click here to book tickets.

Read our interviews with Ashleigh Gray and Stewart Clarke

Photo Credit: Pamela Raith 

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