You think you know Grease? I guarantee you have no idea just how much the original musical by Jim Jacobs and Warren Casey had to evolve to become America’s rock-and-roll love letter to the world. The original, which premiered in 1971 in Chicago, was based on Jacobs’ high school experience in the Windy City. It was raw, raunchy and at times downright vulgar and explored subjects that were usually sanitized during the 1950s—teenage pregnancy, gang violence, teen rebellion, class conflict and good ol’ S-E-X.
When Grease glides onto the sound stages of the Warner Bros. this Sunday, January 31 to bring us the live broadcast of what is generally considered the most popular American musical of all time (it’s certainly the most popular movie musical) it will pull elements from the 1978 hit movie and the stage musical, which enjoyed a record 3,388 performances in its original run, three revivals on Broadway, two revivals on London’s West End, countless touring companies and professional productions in more than 22 countries. What it won’t include is the writers’ first version of the musical.
Jacobs told Playbill during the Chicago revival of the original script in 2011 that Grease “went from an in-your-face show about delinquents to a gang of lovable people singing rock ‘n’ roll.” Jacobs and Casey cut the book to shreds to get it ready for Broadway and turned a play with rock and roll numbers into a full-blown musical.
It was “a real play and the songs stem[med] out of that,” Jacobs said. There were other surprises—Danny and Sandy weren’t the leads; the original Grease was an ensemble show. Sure, Danny and Sandy still had their love-hate romantic dance, but Danny wasn’t what Jacobs described as the “super-cool hero” and Sandy the “special girl.” And, of course, there were songs that we’ve never heard including “Foster Beach,” named for a popular hangout on Lake Michigan, which eventually became “Summer Nights.”
Happily, Jacobs and Casey have had a hand in all of the many revisions of their original script, which probably accounts for how true all of the many versions have stayed to the original. Sunday night’s show may have lost its grit and its Chicago accent, but we feel confident that its rock-and-roll heart beats with all the passion of greased lightning.