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Interview: Grease - Newcastle Theatre Royal


Get Ready For Some Summer Lovin’ At Newcastle Theatre Royal

As Grease hand-jives its way into Newcastle Theatre Royal from Monday 10 to Saturday 15 June 2024 as part of its UK and Ireland tour, director Nikolai Foster promises: "It has all the moments you love from the film and the original but with some extra grit, guts, gravitas and spice!”

Written by Jim Jacobs and Warren Casey, Grease opened in Chicago in 1971 and played on Broadway the following year, where it was nominated for seven Tony awards. It ran for eight years on Broadway and featured little-known (at the time) performers such as Patrick Swayze, John Travolta and Richard Gere. 

When Grease had its 1973 London premiere at the Dominion Theatre, Richard Gere starred as Danny Zuko, then, of course, Travolta played Danny in the 1978 blockbuster film version opposite Olivia Newton-John as Sandy Olsson. The name-change from Sandy Dumbrowski wasn't the only tweak; Sandy was now Australian to accommodate Newton-John's accent, the Burger Palace Boys were renamed the T-Birds, some songs were jettisoned, the story was relocated to sunny California and its harder edges were softened.

This production - which has toured the country and enjoyed sold-out summer seasons in the West End - reinstates the names, the location, the toughness and some of the songs, alongside such favourites as Summer Nights, Hopelessly Devoted To You and You're the One That I Want.

Of the reinstated numbers, the director, Nikolai Foster, (whose extensive CV also includes White Christmas, Annie and Beautiful Thing) explains: "They really give us a key to the feeling of the original show. I think the new-old songs are a nice surprise. They make you sit up and listen, hearing the whole show and something that is very familiar as if for the first time. It’s a terrific new flavour."

The show is choreographed by Dame Arlene Phillips and designed by Colin Richmond, who help add to the realism as a contrast to the movie version. "The film was shot in sunny LA and is very much a candy floss vision of high school life," Foster says. "Our Grease sets the show in its original Chicago location, where it’s much closer to real life and not quite as sunny!" He laughs. "Although Arlene's astonishing choreography certainly has enough energy and verve to ignite a nuclear power reactor!"

Heading the cast for the tour are Marley Fenton as Danny and Hope Dawe, making her professional debut as Sandy. They're thrilled to be playing such iconic characters, with Marley saying: "It's such an iconic show and such an iconic love story, so for us it's about paying homage to a classic."

For her part Hope says: "It's all about playing someone who goes from being a girl to a woman over the course of the show and someone who can put on a different outfit at the end but who is still true to herself and her morals. She's also a bit more fiery than she was in the film."

Marley agrees that the stage version is grittier than people might expect. "You've got all that great music but there are serious themes going on too. There are tensions within the Pink Ladies and the Burger Palace Boys but it's also a celebration of friendship, just as the song We Go Together proves. And ultimately it's so much fun and such a feel-good show."

Hope concurs. "By the end everyone is on their feet for the megamix and they go away humming all those brilliant songs. Everyone loves Grease, don't they?"

They're both huge fans of Arlene Phillips. Marley smiles at the mention of her name. "Every time she walks into the room, there's just this presence. She definitely puts us through our paces but the choreography is amazing." Hope smiles too. "She's very inspiring and she knows so much. She's wonderful to be around."

Phillips herself says of the show: "It's like seeing the film come to life, only edgier. I love the film but it is a fantasy of what real life in Chicago was like in 1958; a lot of people don't know that this is a real story about real-life people. Only the names have been changed."

Awarded a damehood in 2021 for her services to dance and charity, Arlene has been praised for her work on such shows as Starlight Express, Saturday Night Fever, We Will Rock You and Guys and Dolls. She is a two-time Olivier nominee and was presented with a Special Recognition Olivier award in 2023, along with a WhatsOnStage trophy for the revival of Grease at the Dominion Theatre in London’s West End.

Arlene is in awe of the young cast. "They all have to be brilliant and to be triple threats. They have to sing and dance and act, and they bring so much energy to it. It feels like a giant party because everyone in the company is so excited to be doing this show."

The excitement extends to the audience. "When they walk into the auditorium, they might have the weight of the world on their shoulders but as soon as the curtain goes up they're drawn into this story. By the time they've joined in the party for the finale, standing up and singing along, they are filled with joy and it's extraordinary to see the bounce in their steps as they leave the theatre."

Photos: Marc Brenner


Grease plays Newcastle Theatre Royal, Monday 10 – Saturday 15 June 2024. Tickets can be purchased at or from the Theatre Royal Box Office on 0191 232 7010.


Advertisement  -  New Book released

Grease, Tell Me More, Tell Me More: Stories from the Broadway Phenomenon That Started It All by Tom Moore, Adrienne Barbeau & Ken Waissman.

What started as an amateur play with music in a converted trolly barn in Chicago hit Broadway fifty years ago—and maintains its cultural impact today. 

Grease opened downtown in the Eden Theatre February 14, 1972, short of money, short of audience, short of critical raves, and seemingly destined for a short run. But like the little engine that could, this musical of high school kids from the 1950s moved uptown. On December 8, 1979, it became the longest running show—play or musical—in Broadway history. 

Grease: Tell Me More, Tell Me More is a collection of memories and stories from over one hundred actors and musicians, including the creative team and crew who were part of the original Broadway production and in the many touring companies it spawned.

Here are stories—some touching, some hilariously funny—from names you may recognize: Barry Bostwick, John Travolta, Adrienne Barbeau, Treat Williams, Marilu Henner, Peter Gallagher, and others you may not: Danny Jacobson, creator of Mad About You; Tony-winning Broadway directors Walter Bobbie and Jerry Zaks; bestselling authors Laurie Graff and John Lansing; television stars Ilene Kristen, Ilene Graff, and Lisa Raggio, and many, many more. 

Read about the struggles, the battles, and the ultimate triumphs achieved in shaping the story, characters, and music into the iconic show now universally recognized the world over.

Available from our affiliates Waterstones: Order Link -


REVIEW: Pretty Woman The Musical at Sunderland Empire

Pretty Woman The Musical
Sunderland Empire
Until Saturday 8 June 2024

This is a story about two people in their own personal prisons. Vivian, is trapped in the world of the sex worker. There’s no nice way of saying it, but due to personal circumstances, mistakes made, choices taken, she is stuck, she thinks, in this life. Edward is also trapped, but in the world of the vulture capitalist: arranging aggressive takeovers of failing businesses before selling them off for a profit. With Oliver Savile as Edward, and Amber Davies as Vivian we have two very capable musical actors with impressive vocal abilities to carry off the story, the personalities and the songs.

The opening number fronted by Ore Oduba is a welcome to Hollywood, the place where people’s dreams come to die. But we are kept hopeful that sometimes, dreams do come true. Vivian’s best friend, Kit is also working the streets and played by Natalie Paris, she has some huge numbers to belt out and she does so with aplomb. Ore popped up as different characters and worked hard the whole show.

The story is about the way two people meeting can change their outlooks and futures completely, and this can also have effects on their friends.

The ensemble and live band are absolute stars in making the story ring out and draw the audience in. There may have been sound issues at the start but these were quickly ironed out. Choreography was outstanding and some incidental opera was performed blending beautifully with the main songs as part of the story. Set changes were slick and effective.

There’s the power of dreams, hope and romance in this musical. There’s original songs of different genres. There’s great dancing. The company have created something special and should be proud. Definitely a show to recommend to Sunderland audiences and beyond.

Review: Joanne Oliver
Photos: Marc Brenner

Tickets are available for Pretty Woman The Musical at Sunderland Empire, which runs until Saturday 8 June 2024, from our affiliates ATG Tickets:  PRETTY WOMAN TICKET WEBSITE


REVIEW: Drop The Dead Donkey at Newcastle Theatre Royal

Drop The Dead Donkey

Newcastle Theatre Royal

Until Saturday 25 May 2024

It ran for 6 seasons on our television's from 1990-98 bringing current news and satire into a sit com format and it is been transformed into a hilarious stage show in Newcastle this week. Drop The Dead Donkey features members of the original show including the North East's own Stephen Tompkinson  alongside Neil Pearson, Susannah Doyle, Robert Duncan, Ingrid Lacey, Jeff Rawle, and Victoria Wicks. 

The show was known for inserting the latest news stories into the script, even if that involved a quick rewrite on the day of the broadcast. Indeed opening night made reference to the blood scandal, as well as other recent stories.

So what is Drop The Dead Donkey about? The original tale was of life in a television news programme that was trying to keep on top of today's stories. The stage show is written by Andy Hamilton and Guy Jenkin, who are both the creators and writers of the original show and they've have brought it up to date for an era in which we have a choice of 24 hour rolling news. The premise is that some unknown backers, who wish to remain nameless want to set up "Truth TV".

They have asked original CEO Gus (Robert Duncan) to bring back the old team from the 90s. Many of them have old scores to settle and the hierarchy has changed. The trouble is that much what was acceptable in the 90s is no longer so - and this is pointed out to them as they arrive. 

This is a very funny show that gets some of its laughs from pointing out the differences between now and then. In an era of "snowflakes" and gender neutral toilets, it is  unlikely that programmes like The Word would be made today.

The writers are also clearly gunning for the new news start-ups like GB News, complete with their algorithms, toxic social media and unreliable equipment at their launch. In this show they also chuck in Sonia, a voice activated coffee machine that gives the elderly editor George (Jeff Rawle) endless hassle.

Director Lindsay Posner has succeeded in converting the television format into a stage show. This is not as simple as it may seem as what increases pace on the small screen can be problematic on stage. The result worked for many of the generation X in the audience who probably remember the original format. At times it felt like a radio show with a live audience as warm applause greeted each established character on stage. 

Would the show work with younger adults as it pokes fun into what generation X has become in the past 30 years? Possibly... but possibly not. But this is unlikely to be an issue as the bulk of the audience fitted into the age group of those who saw the original show. In 2023 such satire tends to be delivered in panel shows, but I digress.

I found the show very funny. Everyone from politics is a target for some of the humour, the rest is reserved mainly for a certain royal brother of the King. The writers have brought the original format up to date with the concept of rolling news, AI and foreign owners. There are also some nice local touches, in this respect, which are subtly brought in. As someone said in the interval - it'd be great if there was a sequel next week just like the original series - proof that good quality sit-coms are not dead yet.

Review: Stephen Oliver

Photo: Manuel Harlan


Drop The Dead Donkey plays at Newcastle Theatre Royal from Tuesday 21 – Saturday 25 May 2024. Tickets can be purchased at or from the Theatre Royal Box Office on 0191 232 7010.


News: Sunderland Empire Reveals Brand-New Bumper Season Of Productions

 Sunderland Empire Reveals Brand-New Bumper Season Of Productions

Sunderland Empire’s new season is here and it’s big. HUGE!


Ready for a thrilling night at the theatre? It doesn’t get much more chilling than 2:22 A Ghost Story (Tue 21 – Sat 25 May) - the stage phenomenon fresh from record-breaking seasons at five West End theatres. Winner of Best New Play at the Whatsonstage Awards, this edge-of-your-seat, supernatural thriller stars Jay McGuiness (The Wanted), Fiona Wade (Emmerdale, Silent Witness), George Rainsford (Call the Midwife, Casualty) and Vera Chok (Hollyoaks).


Jenny believes her new home is haunted, but her husband Sam isn’t having any of it. They argue with their first dinner guests, old friend Lauren and new partner Ben. Belief and scepticism clash, but something feels strange and frightening, so they’re going to stay up until 2:22… and then they’ll know.


Written by Danny Robins, creator of the hit BBC podcasts Uncanny and The Battersea Poltergeist, get ready for a brilliantly funny and adrenaline-filled night.


Once upon a time in the late ’80s, Vivian met Edward and her life changed forever. Be swept up in iconic romance Pretty Woman The Musical (Tue 28 May – Sat 8 June) in this sensational show that took London’s West End by storm. Starring Amber Davies as Vivian, Ore Oduba as Happy Man/Mr Thompson and with music by Grammy® winners Bryan Adams and Jim Vallance, you’re in for a night that’s pretty magical!


This June experience the mesmerising global phenomenon, Jesus Christ Superstar (Tue 11 - Sat 15 June). With music and lyrics by Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice, Jesus Christ Superstar is set against the backdrop of an extraordinary series of events during the final weeks in the life of Jesus Christ, as seen through the eyes of Judas. Don’t miss this reimagined production which won the 2017 Olivier Award for Best Musical Revival.


Follow the yellow brick road to Sunderland Empire this summer as The Wizard of Oz (Tue 6 – Sun 11 August) flies in direct from The London Palladium! Starring RuPaul’s Drag Race UK winner and Dancing On Ice star The Vivienne as The Wicked Witch Of The West, and featuring the iconic original score from the Oscar-winning MGM film including Over The Rainbow, Follow The Yellow Brick Road and We're Off To See The Wizard with additional songs from Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice, this spectacular production will be truly magical for all the family.


Don’t miss the chance to see Andy Griffiths and Terry Denton’s hilarious, multi award-winning book The 13-Storey Treehouse live on stage from Thu 22 – Sun 25 August. Who wouldn’t want to live in a treehouse? Especially a 13-storey treehouse that has everything including a bowling alley, a secret underground laboratory, self-making beds and a marshmallow machine! Today’s the day Andy and Terry bring their stories to the stage in their first EVER play, perfect for kids aged 6 – 12 years.


OH MY LOVE, MY DARLING, one of cinema’s biggest all-time hits is coming to Sunderland from Tue 27 – Sat 31 August. International smash hit Ghost The Musical returns to the stage, featuring The Righteous Brothers’ Unchained Melody alongside many more terrific songs co-written by Wearside’s own Eurythmics’ Dave Stewart.


Walking back to their apartment late one night, a tragic encounter sees Sam murdered and his beloved girlfriend Molly alone, in despair and utterly lost. But with the help of a phony storefront psychic, Sam, trapped between this world and the next, tries to communicate with Molly in the hope of saving her from grave danger…


The most famous love story of all time. Remixed! What if Juliet’s famous ending was really just her beginning? What if she decided to choose her own fate? Hilariously irreverent hit musical & Juliet explodes onto Sunderland Empire’s stage from Tue 10 – Sat 21 September.

Join Juliet on this sensational journey of self-discovery and second chances, told through some of the most glittering pop anthems of the last three decades from legendary songwriter Max Martin, including …Baby One More Time, Since U Been Gone, Roar, Everybody (Backstreet's Back), Love Me Like You Do and Can’t Feel My Face. Trust us, there’s life after Romeo…


Be spellbound this autumn as Tony, Olivier and Grammy Award winning global phenomenon WICKED (Tue 24 September – Sun 20 October) returns to Wearside! Discover the beguiling backstory to the lives of L. Frank Baum’s beloved characters and the magic that shaped the destinies of two unlikely friends on their remarkable journey to becoming Glinda The Good and the Wicked Witch of the West. Experience the 11th longest running show in West End history, having been seen at the Apollo Victoria Theatre London by over eleven million people.


You haven’t experienced Peaky Blinders until you’ve experienced Rambert Peaky Blinders: The Redemption of Thomas Shelby (Tue 29 October – Sat 2 November). This thrilling adaptation written by the series’ creator Steven Knight with direction and choreography by Rambert’s Artistic Director Benoit Swan Pouffer, captures the Peaky story, with stunning performances from Rambert’s dancers and an iconic soundtrack from a live on-stage band performing legendary Peaky tracks from Nick Cave and The Bad Seeds and Radiohead to The Last Shadow Puppets and Frank Carter & The Rattlesnakes.


Opening in the trenches of Flanders, a personal story unfolds in post-war industrial Birmingham as the Shelby family navigate the decisions that determine their fate and Tommy is intoxicated by mysterious newcomer, Grace. While Tommy is building his empire, Grace is operating as an undercover agent for Special Branch on a mission to get close to the heart of Tommy’s gang. As the story unfolds, hearts are broken, and revenge is sought.


The National Theatre’s acclaimed production War Horse returns to Sunderland this November (Tue 5 – Sat 16 November) as part of an all-new UK tour. This unforgettable theatrical experience takes audiences on an extraordinary journey from the fields of rural Devon to the trenches of First World War France.


Based on the beloved novel by Michael Morpurgo, this powerfully moving and imaginative drama, filled with stirring music and songs, is a show of phenomenal inventiveness. At its heart are astonishing life-sized horses by South Africa’s Handspring Puppet Company, who bring breathing, galloping, charging horses to thrilling life on stage.


Today is going to be a good day. And here’s why… The Olivier, Tony and Grammy award-winning Best Musical Dear Evan Hansen will make its North East debut at Sunderland Empire from Tue 19 – Sat 23 November.


Meet Evan: an anxious high school kid who wants nothing more than to fit in. The thing is, on his way to fitting in, he didn’t tell the whole truth. And now must give up on a life he never dreamt he’d have. As events spiral and the truth comes out, Evan faces a reckoning with himself and everyone around him.


Stick a pony in your pocket! The Trotter’s are back with smash hit show Only Fools and Horses The Musical (Mon 25 – Sat 30 November) - direct from a record-breaking four-year sold-out run in London’s West End. Based on John Sullivan’s legendary television show, this critically acclaimed home-grown musical features cherished material from Britain’s best loved TV series. With a script and original score written by John’s son, Jim Sullivan, and comedy giant Paul Whitehouse.

It's all kicking off in Peckham. While the yuppie invasion of London is in full swing, love is in the air as Del Boy sets out on the rocky road to find his soul mate, Rodney and Cassandra prepare to say ‘I do’, and even Trigger is gearing up for a date (with a person!). Meanwhile, Boycie and Marlene give parenthood one final shot and Grandad takes stock of his life and decides the time has finally arrived to get his piles sorted.

With musical contributions from the iconic Chas & Dave, an array of brand-new songs full of character and cockney charm, you’re guaranteed to have a right ol’ knees-up! 

Fee-Fi-Fo-Fum, we’re bringing a GIANT helping of festive fun to Christmas 2024, with magical panto Jack and the Beanstalk! Join Wearside panto favourites, the fabulous Miss Rory as Dame Rorina Trott and hilarious funny man Tom Whalley as Silly Simon on a madcap adventure for all the family this December (Fri 13 December 2024 – Sun 5 January 2025).

When a heinous henchman kidnaps a cow and a princess from the downtrodden town of Boggy Bottom, young Jack finds himself on an adventure that he thought only existed in story books! Expect a wholesome hero, a punch-packing princess, a feisty fairy, a silly sibling, a witty widow, a slippery servant, a kind-hearted king... and a cow with some beef. Oh... and a very large magical plant, of course! Join us for a fee-fi-fo-fabulous reimagined romp through a classic tale you thought you knew!

Don’t forget there’s also a whole host of fabulous one-night shows throughout 2024 including comedy performances from John Bishop: Back At It (Sun 19 May), Rhod Gilbert & The Giant Grapefruit (Fri 21 June), and Paddy McGuinness: Nearly There… (Fri 25 October).  Unmissable tribute performances are a plenty with Whitney – Queen of the Night (Mon 17 June), MANIA – The ABBA Tribute (Sat 3 August), The ELO Experience (Sun 4 August), Luther Live (Sun 1 September), It’s A Beautiful Noise – The Orchestral Edition (Thu 24 October). With The Drifters (Tue 20 August), The Ultimate Boyband Party Show (Sun 27 October), and Most Haunted: The Stage Show (Sun 17 November) added to the mix, Sunderland Empire have something for everyone this season!


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