Wednesday, February 19, 2014


WOW! at the Public Hall, Witham

Another riotous reunion for the Rydell Class of '59. And in Nikki Mundell-Poole's stylish production, the raw raunchiness of the original – over 40 years ago – is triumphantly recaptured.

Especially in the inventively staged musical numbers: the kitsch routine, dry ice and teasing combs, for Beauty School Dropout [Tim Rolph the Teen Angel], the tyres and the lights for Greased Lightning, the backscrubbers and bath robes as the kids prepare for the High School Hop. Athletic, often witty, choreography, sending up the style just enough, sharply executed by an excellent ensemble, including some impressive mini-me girls and greasers, with Callum Hoskins stepping up to do a very polished Johnny Casino.

Those familiar rock'n'roll pastiches come up very fresh – the Hand Jive, the Summer Nights – with excellent solo work from, amongst others, Hatty Gribben in Freddy My Love, Sarah Williams in Worse Things, and Ashton Reed's stunning voice in Hopelessly Devoted.

Ashton plays the virginal Sandy, who is gradually seduced by booze, cigarettes and ear-piercing to find happiness in a leather jacket and the arms of her Danny, played with a winning blend of cute and cocky by Ben Huish.

It's a shame that the energy tends to evaporate in the dark hiatuses between scenes, and the dialogue, sometimes virtually inaudible, fares less well than the score. The Pink Ladies, for instance, might have picked up a lot more laughs for their banter.

But there's a whole load of lovely character work – David Finch's creepy DJ, Jack Martyn's Doody, Alice Tunningley's cheerleader, Dan Carr's Eugene and a great comedy duo from Rhianna Howard and Mark Ellis as Jan and Roger.

Emma Firth's superb band is elevated at the back of the stage, which works very well in this show, where the music is king.

Standing room only for this sell-out run – testament to WOW!'s reputation and the pulling power of what is now a classic of musical theatre.

production shot by Steve Harris

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