The Glory of Grease

Jim Jacobs photo

by Jim Jacobs, Co-creator of GREASE

Grease had its Broadway première in 1972 and has triumphed throughout the world. In 1979 Grease took over the record as the longest-running show in the history of Broadway and the hit film starring John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John proved to be the highest-grossing movie musical ever.

The co-creators, Jim Jacobs and Warren Casey, were friends for seven years before they collaborated on Grease and it was over a beer at a party when the idea first surfaced. Reacting against the "traditional, 'legit' show-tune type melodies of the Great White Way", Jacobs and Casey amused themselves imagining this new kind of musical on Broadway, with music from the late Fifties and characters from the golden days of rock 'n' roll.

Perhaps through fate (Casey lost his job soon after and, having time on his hands, began to write a rough sketch), Casey and Jacobs created a story with music and lyrics which challenged the existing concept of musicals whilst establishing itself as a new kind of 'classic'. It was in an experimental theatre in Chicago on February 5th 1971 that they finally tried their idea out on the public, with a title evoking the style of the late 1950s – slicked-back hair and fatty fast-food: Grease.

Despite a slightly shaky beginning, an all-amateur cast in a former tram shed with newspapers for seats, the audiences kept returning with friends and relatives, until Grease proved more profitable than any previous show the theatre had produced. With discouragement from friends and encouragement from Broadway producer Ken Waissman and partner Maxine Fox, Casey and Jacobs recognised that to maximise the show's potential they would have to give up their day jobs and move to New York.

One year after the first production Grease opened at the Eden Theatre, just off Broadway, but not with the success hoped for. Although the public loved it, the critics – in particular the New York Times – gave... the show lukewarm reviews and the Tony Awards committee ruled that Grease was ineligible for nomination because the Eden did not qualify as a Broadway theatre, being several blocks away from Broadway proper. However, the producers disagreed and threatened to sue the committee, which promptly backed down. Grease consequently received seven Tony nominations, moved to Broadway proper and never looked back.

Although in the smash hit film of 1978 John Travolta was to play Danny Zuko, in the 1972 tour across the US and Canada the 17 year old Travolta played Doody, the nerdy kid who idolises Danny. When the show opened in London it was the then unknown Richard Gere who played the cool Danny, with Stacey Gregg as Sandy, followed by Paul Nicholas and Elaine Paige in the lead roles.

Everywhere it opened Grease struck a universal chord with its irresistible mix of adolescent angst, vibrant physicality and 1950s pop culture. Jim Jacobs and Warren Casey created a perfect period piece - a pastiche of the 1950s: "fast, furious and thrilling, an injection of raw energy... and fun, fun, fun", according to The Daily Mirror

The new production of Grease, which incorporated all the hit songs from the movie, opened at the Dominion Theatre in 1993 starring Craig Maclachlan as Danny Zuko. Having been discovered in Neighbours the producers realised that Craig exuded the charm that was essential for the character of Danny. They had already seen eight hundred girls for the part of Sandy, but when introduced to American actress Debbie Gibson she was offered the part immediately. The show was taken on tour in 1997 starring Shane Richie and then Ian Kelsey as Danny Zuko and due to its success ran again with Luke Goss heading the cast.

Celebrating twenty years of 'Grease' mania, the film (produced by Robert Stigwood and Alan Carr) was re-released in the summer of 1998.

The London production finished in 1999 after six successful years whilst the tour continued in 2000 with Steven Houghton as Danny. Since then the show has continuously toured throughout the UK, with 2 hugely successful returns to the West End. In October 2001, with Craig Urbani as Danny, Grease returned home to the Dominion Theatre, and in September 2002 a limited season started at the Victoria Palace Theatre with Greg Kahout as Danny and Lee Latchford-Evans as Teen Angel. The show was such a success that its run was extended 3 times and played to packed houses until September 2003 (with Ben Richards taking over the part of Danny Zuko from January 2003).

2003 saw Paramount Home Entertainment release a 25th Anniversary DVD of Grease. It went on to sell more that 750,000 copies – the highest DVD sales ever!

In October 2003 Grease made its first Japanese tour, playing to packed houses in Tokyo and Osaka. The show then returned to the UK for a sold out 5 week Christmas season at Manchester's Palace Theatre with Jonathan Wilkes as Danny and Hayley Evetts as Sandy. Last Christmas also saw Grease being voted “The No.1 Greatest Musical" by ‘100 Greatest Musicals' on Channel 4 TV.

In January 2004 Grease embarked on another UK tour with Ben Richards as Danny and Suzanne Carley as Sandy, and it continues to smash records wherever it goes - The highest capacity 1 week show at Nottingham's Royal Concert Hall - broke the box office record, previously held by Cats, in Sunderland - sold out in Bristol 7 weeks prior to arrival - The 1st show to sell out before arrival, at the Edinburgh Playhouse, since Showboat 12 years ago.

Talking of the show's appeal and purpose, the director David Gilmore explains, "Grease doesn't have a message ... it gives a flavour of being a teenager in the 50s when rock'n'roll and putting Grease on your hair were the most important things in life and this is the level that we should take it on."

Grease has maintained its everlasting popularity, proving that teenage angst and love's young dream remain timeless and universal themes.

Be there or be square!!!

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