Producing Grease

Grease Poster and logo for sale

Grease

Music, Lyrics, and Book by Jim Jacobs and Warren Casey
Performance length: about 2 and ½ hrs. with a 15-minute intermission.

ACTING: Easy

MUSIC: Medium

SET DESIGN: Medium

COSTUME DESIGN: Medium

CAST POTENTIAL: Set at the fictional Rydell High School, this play is an excellent vehicle to boast the talents of a high school aged cast.

CROWD REACTION: This popular stage musical, made even more popular by the iconic 1978 film starring John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John, features catchy songs such as “Summer Nights,” “Grease Lightning,” and “You’re the One that I Want,” which have delighted audiences for almost 40 years.

GENRE: Musical

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SUMMARY:
It’s 1959. Summer vacation is over and the students at Rydell High School begin lamenting the advent of another school year, when suddenly Sandy and Danny each tell their friends about a torrid summer love affair they shared together (Sandy focusing about the romantic side; Danny about the physical) that ended unresolved in the song “Summer Nights.”

When the two bump into each other at school, Danny “plays it cool” in front of his friends, the T-Birds: a rag tag group of “greasers” who don tight jeans, leather jackets, and talk about nothing but cars, girls, and cigarettes. The shy and innocent Sandy, hurt and dejected, soon discovers that if she is to get Danny in the end, she will have to transform into a “greaser” herself. Impressed by her final transformation, Danny becomes desperate for her attention, and the two sing “You’re the One That I Want.”*

* This song was not in the original stage version of Grease, but added later due to the popularity of the film.

CASTING CONSIDERATIONS:
Given that this play is set in a high school, the play lends itself to high school aged actors who could probably relate with many of the characters they are portraying. True, this play is set in 1959, and the high school culture was far different back then. But the themes these characters face – fitting in, finding love in unexpected places, and social issues, such as sex, smoking, and drinking – are timeless. It’s also exciting for the cast to portray these teenagers from the past, to live and speak as perhaps their parents did when they were in high school.

Because of the film, casting for Sandy and Danny have been guided by the patterns set by Olivia Newton-John and John Travolta. Ergo, Sandy usually has big, curly blonde hair, while Danny is tall with dark, slicked back hair. I encourage directors to feel free to break from this mold, to find actors who can offer more than an impression of these two stars. Casting a unique Sandy and Danny is the start to creating a fresh and invigorating production of Grease.

Beyond Sandy (the ingénue) and Danny (the tall, dark, and handsome rebel), this play boasts a bevy of dynamic characters and chorus rolls that will offer your casting pool a great deal of opportunity. Noteworthy are Rizzo, the loud-mouth and sarcastic leader of the “Pink Ladies” (the female equivalent of the “T-Birds”), Kenickie, Danny’s rough-and-tough second in command (who fears that he has impregnated Rizzo), and Roger, who croons about “mooning” to his girlfriend Jan.

SCENIC CONSIDERATIONS:
This play is a time-capsule, both honoring and mocking the fashion and trends popular in 1959. The guys wear tight jeans, white shirts, and leather jackets, while the girls can be seen wearing bright, lacey poodle skirts. Checkered linoleum usually adorns the stage along with bright-neon colors. These costume and scenic elements are not just characteristics of the Fifties, but are hallmarks of Grease itself.

OTHER CONSIDERATIONS:
When it first came out, the musical garnered attention for being raunchy and offensive. There is a lot of validity to those accusations. Teenagers smoke, drink, have sex, and, at one point, Rizzo even thinks she’s pregnant. These are mature themes, indeed. Furthermore, many of the songs, namely “Grease Lightning,” contain explicit sexual double entendre – in this case, comparing a woman’s body to a car. However, Grease as a whole presents these issues in a light, comedic package that make the characters’ iniquities more endearing than offensive.

PERSONAL REFLECTIONS:
Grease is a hilarious musical comedy that has stood the test of time namely because it has captured the essence of a generation. Furthermore, it managed to blend the style and architecture of a Broadway musical comedy with the teenage angst comedies – such as American Graffiti – that have since become incredibly popular for the American public. For these reasons alone, Grease deserves its privileged status as one of the most popular musical comedies to date.

About Matthew McMahan

Matthew McMahan is an actor, writer, and dramaturg, who has worked both in New York and regionally for theatre companies such as the Wooster Group, the Atlantic Theatre Company, the Indiana Repertory Theatre, Young Playwrights, Inc., and the Living Newspaper. He is currently pursuing a Ph.D. in Drama from Tufts University in Medford, MA.
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