Review: COOL RIDER, London Palladium

One night only 10th anniversary concert production at The London Palladium

By: Apr. 16, 2024
Review: COOL RIDER, London Palladium
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Review: COOL RIDER, London Palladium Producers Christopher D Clegg and James Drury have had a remarkable journey with Cool Rider, the much-lauded Grease 2 stage adaption. From a supposed ‘one night only show’ back in 2014 at the Lyric Theatre, to record-breaking ticket sales, a flurry of last-minute additional dates, then a return run three months later at the Duchess Theatre…not to mention an original cast recording.

I was lucky enough to be at that very first show as a newbie to the Grease 2 community, utterly unprepared to witness the cult-like adoration that surrounds this movie and these songs. Returning ten years later for the anniversary concert at the Palladium, I came more prepared, and equally as thrilled to witness a similar audience response – what can only be described as raucous, joyous, unfiltered chaos.

If you aren’t familiar with Grease 2 / Cool Rider, think of it as Grease…but in reverse. Michael, a very mild-mannered young chap from the UK falls in love with classmate Stephanie, a strong-willed and popular student who doesn’t look at him twice. School cliques keep them apart, until Michael learns of Stephanie’s penchant for bad-boy biker dudes (a ‘cool rider'...) and decides to transform himself into her perfect man.  

Reprising their lead roles from the 2014 runs, Ashleigh Gray as Stephanie and Aaron Sidwell as Michael perform like no time has passed. Their energy is infectious, vocals are unmatched…and most importantly, are visibly having the time of their lives embodying these iconic roles.  Sidwell pulls off the unassuming geek persona as adeptly as he handles leather-clad ‘cool rider’, and both play opposite Gray comfortably, who brings her trademark nuance to a role that could so easily be two-dimensional.

Review: COOL RIDER, London Palladium

The superstar ensemble is fantastic all round and littered with leading actors in their own right. The tongue in cheek comedy, grasp of the score and chemistry between them all was a joy to watch. Lee Freemans musical direction and arrangements of the original score (by Louis St. Louis) deliver a bombastic explosion of 60's pop-rock earworms, each one as catch as the next. The title track "Cool Rider", "Reproduction" and "Do it For Our Country" garnered particular adulation from the crowd, with Jacob Fowler (Louis) and Courtney Bowman (Sharon) smashing out a hilarious duet on the latter.

The biggest coup by Clegg and Drury however is securing Maxwell Caulfield – the original Michael – to take part in this production. He serves up a vivid and natural turn as the teacher Mr Stuart and had the audience screaming at every word and swooning at every note. He’s got an enviable stage presence and was visibly having the time of his life up there. Kitty Scott-Claus of RuPaul’s Drag Race fame is another genius addition as The French One (“for legal reasons”, as she explains during the show!)

Cool Rider fully embraces and ridicules any perceived shortcomings of Grease 2 by frequently breaking the fourth wall. It is both a parody and love letter to its source material, which works brilliantly, and the audience respond in kind by shouting out iconic phrases and singing along to it. It’s hard to describe the Cool Rider effect if you haven’t been in the room – I’ve simply seen nothing like it in all twenty of my theatre-going years. The Rocky Horror Show is the closest I’ve seen to this level of visceral cult-like fandom…but even that feels tame in comparison. This particular night had an elevated sense of occasion as Juliet Mills (wife of Maxwell Caulfield) and Joan Collins were in attendance, laughing and clapping away as if they weren’t global superstars. 

All of this wild, unabashed chaos took place on the same night as The Olivier Awards – arguably the biggest night in UK theatre. But if you were in the Palladium on that very evening, even the biggest cynic would argue that Cool Rider took that crown.                       

As for me? I might not be Grease 2 diehard, but seeing Cool Rider again has urged me to give the movie a rewatch and find a ladder to dance atop. Here’s hoping it returns, and that we don’t have to wait another decade.

Photo credit: Mark Senior.


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