The bobby socks and ponytails, leather jackets and slicked back DAs were in place when Grease exploded onto the stage of Dunstable’s Grove Theatre last night for an electric opening night.
It was a much anticipated return of DAOS, the am-dram group that can do no wrong, for its once-a-year big blockbuster musical.
This year they were right to choose a crowd-pleaser that had a sell-out audience singing along and applauding furiously.
DAOS has come a long way since its early inception as a local operatic group belting Gilbert and Sullivan. Their latest show, by its very nature, seemed more like a youth production, but was bursting with talent from the very best singers drawn, not just from Dunstable, but the region.
The performances from its lead characters is faultless, the support exceptional and Ashley Mead’s choreography impressive. This is am-dram at its best.
Grease is set in a 1950s high school where gang culture reigns supreme. There’s the T Birds, a group of leather clad greasers, the glamorous Pink Ladies, led by an indomitable sassy broad called Rizzo, the cheerleaders, the geeks and the lettermen (the sports’ jocks).
Into Rydell High comes little Miss Innocent, a good girl called Sandy, who fell in love over the summer, with a cute guy she later discovers is part of the T-Birds. The inevitable “will-they-won’t-they” love story is played out backed by a playlist of rock ‘n’ roll.
The film version (35 years ago – can it be that long?) confirmed the star status of John Travolta (following hot on the heels of Saturday Night Fever) and singer Olivia Newton John, and I expect it to do the same for DAOS’ young leads, the charismatic Cameron Hay and lovely Katie Ross.
I suspect Cameron, as Danny, found himself with a bit of a fan club after the opening night. He has all the looks and charm of a young Travolta plus tremendous stage presence and a powerful singing voice.
His young love, Sandy, belted out Hopelessly Devoted and shook the cobwebs from the rafters. The now iconic transformation finale, when she changes from wide-eyed innocent into sexy vamp, is a show-stopper.
It wasn’t just the lads on stage who were stunned, I’m pretty sure a few dads in the audience suffered raised blood pressure. I don’t know how she danced in those vertiginous heels and skin-tight black leggings.
But it was hard to ignore the performance of Helen Harris as the street-wise Rizzo. Carrying bags of attitude, she led from the outset, giving a commanding performance that was highlighted by two standout solos, Look At Me I’m Sandra Dee and There Are Worst Things I Could Do.
The support characters were given as much emphasis as the leads, with solo songs for Terry Hooper (as the drippy Doody); Ami Bianchi (an insatiable Jan who munches her way through the show) and Stuart Grey (the eye-popping Roger) and a winning cameo from Justin Doherty as the Teen Angel singing Beauty School Dropout.
Sophie Thomas nailed it as the whiny, oh so cheerful, cheerleader Patty “Pompoms”; Alex Wheeler delightful and endearing as the geeky Eugene; Kirsty Day as the lovable Frenchy; and Veronica Yates as teacher Miss Lynch – they shone one and all.
This is a big company but they didn’t falter when asked to perform complicated dance numbers like Born To Hand Jive and We Go Together.
Grease is a faultless show that well deserved the rapturous applause. The finale reprise of pretty much every song in the show was the icing on the cake.
DAOS plans to celebrate its 50th next year with a musical as old as the group – Fiddler On The Roof – at The Grove October 10/11 2014. Before then there are two smaller shows at Dunstable’s Little Theatre. A Christmas sing-a-long on December 1 and Avenue Q March 25-29.
Grease has a final show at The Grove tonight, 7.30pm. For tickets call the box office 01582 602080 or visit www.grovetheatre.co.uk