THEATRE / Rockers on a low-fat diet: Paul Taylor on steering-wheels and inappropriate muscle in Grease at the Dominion Theatre

THE BEST moment at the opening night of Grease was a sheer fluke. It came during the drive-in movie scene. An overstimulated Danny (Craig McLachlan) was just starting to get fresh with the virginal Sandy (Debbie Gibson) when his steering-wheel snapped off in his hand. Thank God it wasn't his gear-stick, or it would have been curtains for that romance. Suddenly confronted by an accidental image of less than complete manhood, Gibson to her undying credit, could not keep a straight face and the show ground to a brief halt.

. David Gilmore's production tries to be so all-American it hurts. The neon sign at the entertainment-facility reads 'Starlite Drive-In Theatre' - you say 'theater'; we say 'theatre'. Still, given Fifties American high school education ,the sign is doubtless an accurate reflection of the general level of spelling in the Land of Freedom.

Grease has a history of being let down by Australians. In the endearingly dreadful movie it was Olivia Newton-John as Sandy. This time the Aussie liability is Craig (ex-Neighbours) McLachlan. . His singing and dancing are efficient enough, but he makes the groin leg-waggles, or the falsetto decorations in the Fifties-style songs come across as mechanical rather than youthful You could be witnessing a round of dressage.

The entertaining Debbie Gibson is a different matter. When she smiles, there is something about her face that reminds you of Bette Midler. . Not necessarily an asset for the role of Sandy, but at least the ending doesn't defy credibility and the unfairness of the other girls thinking her 'a poor man's Sandra Dee' makes itself felt throughout.

There are some good kitschy bits ('Beauty School Drop- out' is like a dry-ice fantasy), and some effective ensemble moments (like 'We Go Together' give you the lift that is the only point of watching something like this.

On the whole, the production feels synthetic even by the standards of pastiche, and that's whether you judge it as 'theater' or 'theatre'.

'Grease' continues at the Dominion Theatre, Tottenham Court Rd, W1 (071-580 9562)

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