Before the film, Grease existed on stage. In 1971, Jim Jacobs and Warren Casey staged a 5 hour amateur production in Chicago, half conventional musical and half rock 'n' roll review, which celebrated teenage life in the 1950s. Its popularity had Broadway calling; but some changes were in order. The revised and shortened Grease: A New 50s Rock 'n' Roll Musical premiered on Valentine's Day, 1972 at the Eden Theatre, and moved shortly thereafter to Broadway's Broadhurst, and then to the Royale
The stage musical has a fairly tough urban setting, and balances the sentimental reminiscing with the audience's awareness of life's realities and the script's touches of satire. Tough-guy Danny's changes with peer pressure (few of which make it into the film), ingenuous Sandy's transformation into a more sexualized character, and tough-girl Rizzo's gradual emergence as more than her reputation, all reveal the realities beneath the masks we often wear during adolescence. While not exactly deep, the play celebrates and skewers the exaggerated sexual politics of high school.
It set a record for Broadway musical longevity, clocking 3,388 performances (A Chorus Line later buried that record). The original cast included Barry Bostwick and Adrienne Barbeau, and the production featured the following songs:
"Those Magic Changes"
"Freddy, My Love"
"Rydell Fight Song"
"Look at Me, I'm Sandra Dee"
"We Go Together"
"It's Raining on Prom Night"
"Born to Hand-Jive"
"Beauty School Drop-out"
"Alone at the Drive-in Movie"
"Rock 'n' Roll Party Queen"
"There are Worse Things I Could Do"
"All Choked Up"
"We Go Together" (Reprise)
Nostalgia for the 50s (or the media's Happy Days version thereof) formed a major part of 1970s North American youth culture, and the adaptation of the Broadway hit to screen was a given. Once again, Grease underwent modifications. Alan Carr wrote the new screenplay, with assistance from Bronte Woodard. New songs were added, including the Barry Gibb-penned theme song, John Farrar's sure-fire hit singles "You're the One that I Want" and "Hopelessly Devoted to You," and Louis St. Louis's "Sandy."
Others sing the praises of the film adaptation elsewhere in this nodeshell. The film, in fact, opened to a decidedly mixed critical reception-- a fact forgotten in its later elevation to "classic" status. Director Randal Kleiser creates some energetic scenes, but his adaptation tramples clumsily over the subtler touches. The film plays for me now as if a particularly self-absorbed adolescent were running the show. Rather than a sometimes amusing, sometimes comedic reflection on the 50s and teenhood, we get a morality play teaching that boys should be thickheaded jerks and girls should be male-catering sluts. The tacked-on theme song may claim that "conventionality belongs to yesterday," but the film reinforces the worst kind of bowing to peer pressure. The original writers, in fact, were barred from the studio during filming, because of their caustic response to some of the movie's revisions.
The influence of Hollywood cannot be denied; in recent years, productions have become more like the familiar film, even including the added musical numbers. Grease can be enjoyed or dismissed as a romp, but it's also fair to note the original musical is an informed romp.
Portions of this article appear a review of Grease I wrote on the film's twentieth anniversary.