Music, lyrics and libretto: Jim Jacobs and Warren Casey
Additional songs: Barry Gibb, John Farrar and others
Broadway: 7 June 1972
West End: 26 June 1973
ROMA Musical Theatre: 5 January 2002
The history of this worldwide smash-hit musical is a long one comprising several chapters. First of all, its main creator – Jim Jacobs – became fascinated with rock’n’roll at an early age, even teaching himself to play the guitar. Then he attended high school in Chicago, where his experiences formed the basis for his story about teenagers in the musical GREASE. The first performance of his rock’n’roll musical took place in Chicago itself, in a blues club located in a tram depot. After coming to the attention of New York producers, it moved to Manhattan, initially performed off-Broadway (making its debut on 14 February 1972) before finally conquering the musical capital in grand style: when its run finally came to an end in 1980, GREASE had set a new record in Broadway history of 3,388 performances (a record only beaten a few years later by A CHORUS LINE). And this was just the beginning. The musical has been performed in London (in 1973), turned into a film (1978) and toured theatre stages around the world – both professional and amateur ones.
The musical has undergone considerable changes during its lifetime. The original version was quite raw, and the language used by the teenagers was considered too ‘realistic’ for musical audiences. Each subsequent incarnation of GREASE was therefore softened slightly, with the songlist also seeing constant change. The biggest changes to the musical came with the success of the film version, however, as it included several specially written new songs that hadn’t been in the stage version but which went on to become huge hits: “Grease” (written by Barry Gibb from the Bee Gees), “You’re the One That I Want” (which topped the American charts) and “Hopelessly Devoted to You” (a number-three hit which also received an Oscar nomination). The singles from the soundtrack were even more successful in the UK. The soundtrack itself was knocked off the top spot in the American charts by the Rolling Stones’ album “Some Girls”, but in the British charts it stayed at number one for 13 consecutive weeks. The film version’s duet “You’re The One That I Want” (performed memorably by John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John) still occupies an impressive 5th place in the list of all-time best-selling UK singles. It’s no surprise, therefore, that such successful songs were then incorporated into the stage version of the musical, which has since returned to Broadway and the West End on numerous occasions (1993, 1994 and 2007, to name but a few).
GREASE’s greatest strength, besides its universal theme of youth, which successive generations of theatre-goers have found it easy to identify with, is its successful recreation of 1950s America. This time was a turning point in US culture, with the emancipation of youth as a separate social group and, above all, the birth of rock’n’roll. Returning to these times usually evokes a happy nostalgia, but in GREASE this nostalgia is accompanied by such a huge dose of energy that it’s impossible for the musical to ever grow stale.
Selected songs: “Summer Nights”, “You’re the One That I Want” and “Greased Lightnin’”