West End musicals: Grease gets woke with diverse and 'empowered' stage cast and a brunette Sandy

West End musicals: Grease gets woke with diverse and 'empowered' stage cast and a brunette Sandy

Woke is the word! Grease gets diverse and ’empowered’ stage cast (with a brunette Sandy) after the film faced claims of racism and ‘slut shaming’

  • New West End production of Grease looks set to satisfy modern audiences 
  • It has a diverse cast, same-sex dance couples and em­power­ed brunette Sandy 
  • New production will also mark Peter Andre’s West End debut as Vince Fontaine 

The last time Grease was shown on the BBC it provoked howls of outrage from ‘woke’ critics who condemned it for racism, sexism, homophobia and ‘slut-shaming’. 

But a new West End production of the hit Seventies musical looks set to satisfy modern audiences with its diverse cast, same-sex dance couples and an em­power­ed – and brunette – Sandy. 

Grease was first staged on Broadway in 1972 and six years later became a big-screen blockbuster with John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John playing high school sweethearts Danny and Sandy. 

Female characters will be central in the new staging, with changes including women introduced to Greased Lightning – an all-male number in the 1978 film. 

The song’s reprise will be performed by Betty Rizzo. Played by Stockard Channing in the film, the role will now be taken by black British actress Jocasta Almgill, whose previous credits include the West End production of & Juliet.

Olivia Moore as Sandy and Dan Partridge as Danny in the West End production of Grease 

The film Grease (1978) which starred Olivia Newton-John as Sandy Olsen and John Travolta as Danny Zuko

The film Grease (1978) which starred Olivia Newton-John as Sandy Olsen and John Travolta as Danny Zuko

Fans will also see women standing up for themselves where they haven’t before, for example in Sandy’s confrontation with Danny and Rizzo at the end of act one.

Empowerment will also be found through friendships and not just from the attention of men, according to those involved in the production. 

Same-sex couples will feature in the National Dance Off. This was banned in the film by Coach Calhoun, who told students: ‘Game rule one: All couples must be boy-girl.’ 

The new production will mark Peter Andre’s (pictured) West End debut as Vince Fontaine, while Jason Donovan will guest star in some performances

The new production will mark Peter Andre’s (pictured) West End debut as Vince Fontaine, while Jason Donovan will guest star in some performances

The new production’s choreographer Dame Arlene Phillips said: ‘There is a lot of positivity in our production. ‘Girls dance with girls, boys dance with boys. That’s one of the things. Girls always did dance with girls in the Fifties [the era in which the story is set]. They danced around their handbags. They didn’t have boys to dance with… 

‘Our cast is very diverse in every way. And certainly our Sandy [played by Olivia Moore] has her own inner strength, her own determination, her own intellect. Our females are empowered.’ 

When the film was aired on the BBC on Boxing Day 2020, it was attacked by many online, with one Twitter user writing: ‘Grease is far too sexist and overly white and should be banned from the screen.’ 

But Miss Newton-John said: ‘It’s a fun movie musical and not to be taken so seriously… We need to relax a little bit.’ 

The new production will mark Peter Andre’s West End debut as Vince Fontaine, while Jason Donovan will guest star in some performances. 

Danny will be played by Dan Partridge. Grease opens at the Dominion Theatre on May 17. 

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Emma Powell

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