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Is Grease the Word?


From this April “Grease” will indeed be the word on the lips of television and theatre audiences alike. A televised talent search for the roles of Sandy and Danny for a new West End production of Grease is soon to be broadcast on ITV. Grease Is The Word hits your screens in April. The show’s producers, Simon Cowell and theatre impresario David Ian, are hoping it will equal the television ratings of How Do You Solve A Problem Like Maria? Which subsequently boosted theatre audiences for the production of ’The Sound of Music.’

In 1971 Grease premiered in Chicago at the Kingston Mines Theatre as a “play with music.” It was suggested to the show’s writers that it may work better as a musical and the re-worked version of the show opened off-Broadway in 1972 at the Eden Theatre. Following enthusiastic reviews and brisk ticket sales the show moved to Broadway where it ran until 1980. Well received by Broadway audiences, ’Grease’ became the longest-running musical before being made into the 1978 film starring John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John. The film’s intended stars, Henry Winkler and Marie Osmond, had turned down the roles of Danny Zuko and Sandy Drumbowski. Winkler, playing Fonzie in Happy Days, was fearful of being typecast while Marie Osmond was critical of Sandy’s character having to change to get the guy.

The film version of Grease made several changes to the musical. The T-Birds of the film were originally the Burger Palace Boys in the musical and several of the songs were omitted from the film. Some of the music changes were to prove critical, “Greased Lightnin,’” for example, was not intended to be sung by Travolta though the star persuaded the producers that his character should sing it, thus creating one of the films most memorable scenes and popular songs. Two of the film’s biggest hits, “Hopelessly Devoted to You” and “You’re the One That I Want” weren’t in the musical at all and were written especially for the film. A more important change from musical to film was the removal of many of the stage show’s sexual references which allowed the film to qualify for a PG rating and a much wider audience.

When Grease was released in 1978 the UK was in the grip of Punk Rock. Bands like The Sex Pistols and The Clash spearheaded an anti-establishment movement that eschewed rock ’n’ roll and the establishment with short, fast and hard music with political and nihilistic lyrics. Opening at the same time as Jaws 2, Grease debuted in June.

Set in the 1950’s with a rock ’n’ roll soundtrack to match, Grease was seen as the antidote to the punk scene and was embraced for it’s feel-good factor. With an intoxicating mix of slick back hair, 50’s pop culture, teenage angst and a catchy sing-a-long soundtrack, the film caught the imagination of millions of teenagers and was a huge success everywhere it opened. Boys would be seen with combs in their back pockets in true T-Bird style and girls would adopt the mannerisms of the Pink Ladies.

The soundtrack to the film shot to the top of the UK album charts and “You’re The One That I Want” topped the singles chart before the film had even been released. “You’re The One That I Want” and the other Travolta / Newton-John duet “Summer Nights,” which also topped the charts, went on to become some of the biggest selling singles of all time and “Hopelessly Devoted to You” was nominated for the Oscar for Best Music - Original Song.

Already famous thanks to films such as ’Carrie’ and starring as Tony Manero in ’Saturday Night Fever,’ John Travolta was propelled to super-star status by Grease. Olivia Newton-John, who was initially reluctant to star in the film, was also catapulted into the spotlight having previously carved out a successful career as a singer. When the duo attended a UK screening of the Grease they were treated to a reception akin to Beatlemania. The film went on to gross $340 million at box offices world wide. Though they would pair up for the film ’Two of a Kind,’ the magic of the Grease would not last for Travolta or Newton-John.

Grease became the highpoint of Travolta’s early career yet he would soon drift into film obscurity appearing only in occasional films such as ’Look Who’s Talking,’ ’Blow Out’ and reprising the role of Tony Manero in the sequel ’Staying Alive.’ His personal life became grief-stricken as his girlfriend and then his mother both died of cancer and he turned down roles, including the potentially career igniting lead in ’American Gigolo.’ His career would eventually be revived by his performance in ’Pulp Fiction.’ Olivia Newton-John, who made her film debut in Grease, went on to star in the box office flop ’Xanadu’ before ’Two of A Kind’ which also stalled at the the box office before quitting acting and returning to singing.

For its legions of fans the spark that started with Danny and Sandy on a beach has never burnt out. There are fan clubs that span the globe with members who weren’t even born when Grease was made, highlighting the films enduring and ageless appeal. Internet forums and groups are filled with discussions on the films legacy and best bits and even fan fiction. The film was re-released in theatres in 1998 to celebrate it’s 20th anniversary and DVD issues and re-issues have proved continually popular. In 2006, Grease was ranked at number 20 on the American Film Institute’s list of best musicals.

Seizing upon the everlasting popularity of the film and incorporating many of its hit songs, a new production of Grease opened at the Dominion Theatre in London’s West End in 1993. The show ran on London’s West End until 1999 and took in a hugely popular national tour in 1997. In 1994 Grease returned to Broadway for another successful run and continues to be a staple in theatres and productions throughout the world.

Following the success of the BBC’s How Do You Solve A Problem Like Maria? and the revival of The Sound of Music, a Broadway revival of Grease is due to open in June 2007. The parts of Danny and Sandy will chosen by popular vote on ’Grease: You’re The One That I Want.’ Simon Cowell, of ’X-Factor’ and ’Pop Idol’ fame has purchased the rights to bring the show to the UK screens and ’Grease is the Word’ will begin on ITV on April 17th. The televised talent hunt will be produced, though not judged by, Cowell in collaboration with David Ian who will produce the resultant West End revival of Grease. The format will closely follow that of How Do You Solve A Problem Like Maria? with contestants appearing in front of a panel of judges before facing elimination via public vote.


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