When transforming a story that has had such a major impact on an era, there are always a number of tricky hurdles to negotiate. The biggest one: nostalgia. Last night at the QE the room was filled with men and women who had clearly grown up in and around the 80s so the likelihood of them having seen the film was great. When the lights went down and the music began, that assumption grew stronger. Throughout the audience there were screams and whistles of appreciation as the familiar songs from the film filled the hall.
There were some minor changes to the story that were of obvious necessity, like the skating scenes, but there were some character name changes that felt out of place. Jeanie was changed to Gloria, for example. It was most likely done to segue into the song "Gloria" that was sung by the character Gloria in the second half of the show, but really didn't make sense as none of the lyrics reflected the narrative of the character.
There were some dance scenes that were iconic and simply could not be removed from the show, like the water bucket scene, and this also applied to some of the dance moves. While the water bucket scene was effectively pulled off (even though the water failed to exit the bucket) some of the dance moves were noticeably dated. Nostalgia raced in to save the experience for those of that generation, but for the younger members in the audience, it failed to hit its mark.
It was difficult at times to follow the narrative. While the show is a musical version of the story, it felt a bit too musical. The balance between song and dialogue seemed out of balance. Many of the singers' voices were pitchy and when the singers did slow down to talk, they often jumped on their own comedic lines.
Some of the best moments of the show were the duets with Adam Rennie and Kerli Dinardo, and Heidi Friese and Jacob Tischler. Tischler looked terrified in the first half of the show, but really hit his stride in the second half. Patricia Bartlett was fun to watch but we really wanted to see her dance: just one signature move or pose that proved she was all that she said she was. Even her character's failing health didn't excuse this oversight. The blocking was unusual in places as well, with one of Dinardo's understudies stepping in for her for a short dance number while Dinardo readied for the next segment.
The men rocked the ensemble song Justice, in the first half of the show, but the pre-recorded Joan Jett and the Blackhearts song felt a little lack-luster and dated.
The performers did the best with what they had. What this show could have used that would have made it a much better experience, is a good sound person. The audio was terrible. It kept fluctuating in and out, up and down, and generally gave the impression the show was not professional. A shame for those who have worked hard.
In the end the show received a somewhat reluctant standing ovation largely, I believe, inspired by nostalgia.