Grease doesn't have a message...it gives a flavour of being a teenager in the '50s - when rock 'n' roll and putting grease on your hair were the most important things in life.
- David Gilmore, Director1
The majority of people who have heard of Grease know it from the 1978 John Travolta/Olivia Newton-John film. However, Grease started out life as a musical and is still going strong as such. Grease came to life on 5 February, 1971, when Jim Jacobs and Warren Casey staged an idea they had been working on, in an experimental theatre in Chicago. From there it grew and grew, and Grease has since been performed all over the world, from Mexico (where they call it Vaselina) to South Africa, from Japan to Denmark.
Grease is set in a 1959 American high school, and got its name from the hair, food, and custom cars that were popular at the time, all of which involved huge amounts of grease.
A group of guys who go to Rydell High School. They all wear leather jackets with the T-Birds logo on the back, and slick their hair into a quiff. They consider themselves to be the coolest guys in the school.
Danny - the leader of the T-Birds. He generally considers himself to be very cool. He loves Sandy but doesn't want to look like a nerd in front of his friends.
Kenickie - the main womaniser of the T-Birds. His main aim is to get his hands on a set of wheels.
Doody - is very shy, especially around girls. He keeps trying to ask Frenchy out but never quite manages it...
Roger - nicknamed 'Rump', as he is the school mooner.
Sonny - the fifth member of the T-Birds.
The Pink Ladies
A group of girls at Rydell High who consider themselves the coolest girls in the school. They all wear pink cardigans emblazoned with their own logo, and they generally hang around with the T-Birds.
Sandy - the new girl in school. She is very naïve - doesn't smoke, drink, or go all the way with boys. She joins the Pink Ladies, but never really fits in. She loves Danny but can't understand why he acts differently towards her when he is around his friends.
Rizzo - she has a very on/off relationship with Kenickie, and even thinks she may be pregnant by him at one stage. She is the leader, and the most wild, of the Pink Ladies.
Frenchy - is a dreamer, and not the sharpest tool in the shed. Her ambition is to become a beautician.
Jan - is constantly eating, and so has a weight problem and wears baggy clothes.
Marty - acts older than she is, and is having an on/off relationship with a sailor.
Teen Angel - a guardian angel dreamed up by Frenchy when she needs some advice.
Miss Lynch - a teacher at Rydell High.
Eugene - the nerd of Rydell. He is always picked on by the T-Birds because he isn't cool.
Cha Cha - a girl from a different school, who dates a member of the T-Birds' rival gang, the Flaming Dukes.
Vince Fontaine - a radio DJ and compere of the prom. He has the whitest teeth possible, spangly clothes, and talks like a typical radio DJ.
Patty - a cheerleader who wants to hang out with the Pink Ladies, but isn't cool enough.
The story portrayed in Grease is pretty simple. Sandy and Danny met over the summer at the beach, but they have to end their romance as they are both going to different schools after the holidays. However, plans have a tendency to change, and Sandy ends up going to Danny's school, Rydell High, after all. She presumes they will pick up where they left off at the beach, but Danny has an image to maintain, and so acts very differently around his friends to how he did when they were alone together. Sandy tries to forget about him (especially when she sees him with other girls) but she can't. When she hears the other girls making fun of her she decides on an image change, and confronts Danny in skin-tight black clothes. Danny loves it, and they get together and everyone lives happily ever after.
There are a few sub-plots in the musical - for example, Frenchy quits school to go to beauty school, but then becomes a 'Beauty School Dropout' and is advised by her (imaginary) guardian angel to go back to school. Kenickie buys a run-down car but is convinced the T-Birds can turn it into 'Greased Lightning'. Danny goes to the prom with Cha Cha, and they win the dance contest.
It couldn't be a musical without songs2, and it is the songs that people usually think of when they think of Grease. The songs in the musical differ slightly from those in the film:
'Sandy' - Danny
'Grease Is The Word' - Everybody
'Summer Nights' - The T-Birds and the Pink Ladies
'Those Magic Changes' - Doody
'Look At Me, I'm Sandra Dee' - Rizzo
'Greased Lightnin'' - Kenickie
'Rydell Fight Song' - The Pink Ladies
'Mooning' - Roger and Jan
'We Go Together' - Everybody
'Shakin' At The High School Hop' - Everybody
'It's Raining On Prom Night' - Sandy and Jan
'Born To Hand Jive' - Everybody
'Hopelessly Devoted To You' - Sandy
'Beauty School Dropout' - Teen Angel
'Sandy' - Danny
'Rock And Roll Party Queen' - Doody and Roger
'There Are Worse Things I Could Do' - Rizzo
'Look At Me I'm Sandra Dee' (reprise) - Sandy
'You're The One That I Want' - Danny and Sandy
'Finale' - Everybody
The cast of Grease has included many people who have gone on to become household names. John Travolta started out being chaperoned by his older sister when he was part of a Grease tour at the age of 17, and later went on to play the part of Danny in the film version. Richard Gere was unknown before he played Danny in London (after understudying the part on Broadway). Elaine Paige has played Sandy, and Ian Kelsey, Craig McLachlan, Darren Day, Luke Goss, Steven Houghton and Shane Richie have all taken on the role of Danny at one time or another. Even Su Pollard has appeared in Grease!
As with most long-lived productions, Grease has changed over time. One of the major changes was in the song list - songs have been added and removed over time. A lot of these changes took place after the film was released, as people expected to hear the same songs in the musical as were in the film. As a result of this, the songs 'Rydell Alma Mater' (and a parody of the same song, 'Freddy, My Love'), 'Alone At The Drive-in Movie', and 'All Choked Up' were removed, and 'Grease Is The Word', 'Hopelessly Devoted', 'Sandy', and 'You're The One That I Want' were added. Fans of the movie might be surprised to see one of the showcase songs, 'Greased Lightnin', is always sung by Kenickie and not (as in the film) Danny.
Other changes include the fact that the T-Birds were originally called 'The Burger Palace Boys', (as this was where they hung out), and some slight changes to the dialogue have been made. There was also a character called 'Johnny Casino' (real name Clarence) in the original production, a wannabe greaser who sang 'Born To Hand Jive'; he no longer appears in the West End version.