The problem with Grease is that its just not "Greasy" enough. If you've seen the much-loved 1978 film, you'll go to this musical expecting to descend into a Frankie Valli of Fifties memorabilia, to be buoyed up by a mixture of singalong songs, smart dialogue and rock'n'roll razzamatazz. Sadly, the entertainment laid on over two-and-a-half hours feels less as if it came off Broadway (as the original movie did) than off the end of the pier. American accents are shaky and chutzpah is in short supply. Ironically, it's Rhiannon Howys, one of the few members of the original cast, who stands out for her singing ability and bubbly energy, while the cast's new blood looks weary enough to have been performing the show twice a day for the full 15 months of its West End run.
Though it's hardly West Side Story, the choreography is lively enough, and you'd have to be a complete misery not to enjoy the singalong musical numbers. But too many of the short scenes in between marked a slump in the show's energy. In one potentially funny scene at a drive-in movie Danny and Sandy exchanged their lines with such lethal lack of conviction that the audience became palpably restless. That said, many of the show's problems aren't the fault of the cast. It would be hard to match the expensive spectacle of the movie on stage, although in a post-Lloyd-Webber world, the sets here did look a little cheaper than usual. Played out at loving length, a laser show of green lights depicting the gang's souped-up car accelerating into the sky was particularly underwhelming. Less greased lightning than a Ford station wagon with the handbrake on.
If such longueurs weren't enough to have you rushing back to the film in despair, then the substitution of Luke Goss for John Travolta would have been. You can glue on a fake quiff, but either you have charisma or you don't. As the supposedly sexy lead, Goss is a veritable black hole, managing to merge into the background even when under the spotlight, disappearing into his gang when he should be leader of the pack. Lacking the physical muscle or sex appeal necessary for the role, Goss rather endearingly spent the show furtively checking that his collar was still turned up, with the result that you wanted to take him home and mother him rather than find out what was inside those skin-tight jeans. Unfortunately you found out anyway, since in one scene Danny fakes a sudden interest in sports, and the luckless Goss has to appear in shorts. When he jogged on stage someone in the cast yelled "chicken legs".
I hope that's in the script, because it's the only evidence that Goss hasn't been cruelly miscast.
Cambridge Theatre, Earlham Street, London WC2; booking to 3 October (0171- 494 5080)