Grease is a 1971 musical by Jim Jacobs and Warren Casey. The musical is named for the 1950s United States working-class youth subculture known as the greasers. The musical, set in 1959 at fictional Rydell High School (loosely based on William Howard Taft School), follows ten working-class teenagers as they navigate the complexities of love, cars, and drive-ins. The score attempts to recreate the sounds of early rock and roll.
In its record-breaking original Broadway production, Grease was a raunchy, raw, aggressive, vulgar show that since has been sanitized and tamed down by subsequent productions. The show tackles such social issues as teenage pregnancy and gang violence; its themes include love, friendship, teenage rebellion, sexual exploration during adolescence, and, to some extent, class consciousness/class conflict.
Grease first was performed in 1971 in the original Kingston Mines Theatre in Chicago, located in an old trolley barn (now the site of a hospital parking garage). From there, it has been successful on both stage and screen, but the content has changed drastically and its teenage characters have become less Chicago habitues and more generic. At the time that it closed in 1980, Grease's 3,388-performance run was the longest yet in Broadway history, although surpassed by A Chorus Line a few years later. It went on to become a West End hit, a hugely successful film, two popular Broadway revivals in 1994 and 2007, and a staple of regional theatre, summer stock, community theatre, and high school and middle school drama groups. It remains Broadway's thirteenth longest-running show.
The show's original, grittier 1971 incarnation has been described as either a musical from the start or a play with incidental music. In either case, it was first staged under the name Grease Lightning at the original location of the Kingston Mines in the Lincoln Park neighborhood of Chicago. The script was based on Jim Jacobs' experience at William Taft High School.
Producers Ken Waissman and Maxine Fox saw the show and suggested to the playwrights that it might work better as a musical, and told them if the creative partners were willing to rework it and they liked the end result, they would produce it Off Broadway. The team headed to New York City to collaborate on what would become Grease.
The new production, directed by Tom Moore and choreographed by Patricia Birch (who later directed the ill-fated sequel of the film adaptation of Grease), opened Off Broadway at the Eden Theatre in downtown Manhattan on February 14, 1972. The Best Plays of 1971-72 notes "Though Grease opened geographically off Broadway, it did so under first class Broadway contracts." The show was deemed eligible for the 1972 Tony Awards, receiving seven Tony Award nominations.
The original cast included Barry Bostwick as Danny and Carole Demas as Sandy, with Adrienne Barbeau, Timothy Meyers, Alan Paul, and Walter Bobbie in supporting roles. Replacements later in the run included Jeff Conaway, Marilu Henner, Peter Gallagher, Ilene Graff, Judy Kaye, Patrick Swayze, John Travolta, Jerry Zaks, and Treat Williams. Richard Gere was an understudy for many roles in this production, including Danny Zuko, Teen Angel, and Vince Fontaine.