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Ode To The Musical Sequel

Retitled Cool Rider, Grease 2 is getting new lease of life after West End performances with a cast album

Sequels are a tricky business. Following in the footsteps of the older, already successful sibling means the sequel must either match or exceed that original success, and with expectations high, it’s far easier to disappoint than meet the often impossible standards of the fans. That’s not to say sequels can’t work, because of course there are many examples that prove it can be done, and done well. It’s just…a tricky business. There’s a fine line between retaining all the elements that made people love the original and just rehashing the events already seen.

When it comes to musicals, both on stage and on screen, sequels haven’t always been that well received, as a rule. Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Phantom sequel, Love Never Dies, is one sequel that immediately springs to mind. Now, I loved it. The show had its faults yes, mostly in regards to the plot, but the score was fantastic, the cast even more so, and the entire production was just visually stunning. There were so many Phans though who had such clear ideas on who these characters were and where they went after the events that transpired in the lair finale of Phantom that they absolutely despised the direction Lloyd Webber went in Love Never Dies. Despite its troubles though, Love Never Dies ran in the West End for nearly 18 months – a lot longer than some shows run for nowadays – and while it clearly failed to live up to the success of Phantom (a surely impossible task anyway), it was still of a higher standard than other musicals that have been seen in London.

Then there’s Grease. Who doesn’t love Grease? Grease II however… The Grease films were originally intended to be a franchise, but they ended when the sequel failed to live up to the hype of its predecessor. It did have its fans though. Yes, it was cheesy. Yes, it wasn’t in the same league with Olivia Newton John and John Travolta’s film. Did that make it bad though? I remember dancing around with my friends as a teenager singing the songs and having great fun with it. We weren’t alone either as it had something of a comeback in London last year.

A one-night concert version was staged at the Lyric Theatre in January 2014, and proved popular enough to move forward for a week-long run of the musical at the Duchess Theatre in April 2014.

‘The film told the heady and daring love story of two unlikely lovers and their road to romances from bowling alley to burger joint, sing-a-long-a-sex-education class to talent show, and long (and beautifully lit) romantic motorcycle rides to a slightly incongruous luau ending. Much like its musical prequel, the story follows the ancient High School motto: if you want the guy/girl, change your personality beyond recognition and wear overly tight leather in the finale.’

The stage production, now re-titled Cool Rider, starred Ashleigh Gray and Aaron Sidwell as main characters Stephanie and Michael, alongside such other names as Niall Sheehy, Nadine Cox, Bronte Barbe, Kane Oliver Parry, Reece Shearsmith, Hannah Levane, Lucinda Lawrence and Joshua Dowen. It received favourable reviews, and now, the musical is taking another step forward.

Producer Christopher D. Clegg has started a Kickstart campaign to fund a cast recording of the show. The album will feature all the cult classic songs, including ‘Back To School’, ‘Score Tonight’, ‘Who’s That Guy’, ‘Reproduction’, ‘Do It For Our Country’, ‘Charades (you can skip it)’, ‘Prowlin” ‘Girl For All Seasons’, (Love Will) Turn Back The Hands Of Time’, ‘Rock-A-Hula-Luau (Summer Is Coming)’ and We’ll Be Together’, as well as the title track, ‘Cool Rider’, performed by cast members from the West End concert and some special guests. They are aiming to reach £12,000 to produce the album, and as of writing this, have raised £5,485 with 45 days to go. Rewards on offer to people who pledge range from signed copies of the CD and promotional products such as posters, flyers and programmes from the performances, to the chance to feature in the Cool Rider poster, personalised signed merchandise and a producer credit – all pledges over £40 will also receive tickets to the album launch party.

Crowdfunding campaigns such as these have proven an effective method of financing albums, with a number of singers and songwriters producing their albums through such sites, along with cast recordings of new shows.

It just goes to show that there is always an appetite for the often under-appreciated musical sequel. They may not ever get out from under the shadow of their predecessors, but these ‘cult musicals’ inevitably always have a following of their own and there is always a place to be found for them.

By Julie Robinson: @missjulie25

Thursday 5th February 2015