It’s a show loved and adored by audiences the world over. But how many people are familiar with Grease in the form in which it was originally written for the stage?
From now until May 7, Sydney audiences have their first ever opportunity to experience The Original Grease on their own turf. Squabbalogic Independent Music Theatre is bringing it to the stage, kicking off the Seymour Centre’s 2016 Reginald Season.
Directed by Squabbalogic’s artistic director, Jay James-Moody, The Original Grease is said to be a rebellious, rude and rage-filled tale of teen love, sex, friendship and rock ‘n’ roll.
Talking to Theatre People, James-Moody says the show was originally written by Jim Jacobs and Warren Casey, and its first performance was in 1971 at the Kingston Mines Chicago club.
“It was a really gritty, authentic take on what it was like for Jim to grow up in northwest Chicago during the 50s,” he says.
“It was an immediate hit, and then it was picked up by some savvy producers to take it to Broadway. But in the transition to Broadway, like most shows, there was a bit of retooling and dramaturge work on it, to get it a bit closer to the show we know today… [It] made the show just a little bit more palatable for family audiences.”
James-Moody also says the show became more nostalgic about the 1950s, rather than remaining focused on authentically recounting the lives of its central characters.
“And of course, there was the film, which cleaned it up even further for cinema audiences,” he adds.
“A lot of elements that were created for the film have made their way into stage versions as well. Now, many stage versions are more just about people’s favourite moments from the movie and ticking off all the songs, rather than getting the core of the characters.”
So precisely what show will Sydney audiences see over the coming weeks?
“This version of the show… is primarily based on that original Kingston Mines version, but there are bits and pieces in there from the original Broadway production and from some of the subsequent productions over the last 40 years,” James-Moody tells Theatre People.
He himself is a big fan of Grease, and has been keen to stage The Original Grease locally for a number of years.
“I heard about this restoration of the show, which was performed in Chicago in 2011, [and] I’ve been chasing that since then to make that the version of Grease that I got to work on over here and present this alternative history of the show to Australian audiences,” he says.
What is it about The Original Grease that appeals to James-Moody so strongly?
“Really, how well rounded the characters are,” he says.
“All the characters are there and are completely recognisable for people as they’ve seen them in other productions, but there’s a real sincerity and humanity and depth to them all in this version.”
According to James-Moody, the team assembled for The Original Grease is determined to give audiences an experience they won’t forget.
“It’s a terrific team, who are all really eager to put a new spin on it – from choreography to music, set, sound, costume… There are going to be familiar moments, and then there’s going to be brand new stuff that an audience has never seen before in a production of Grease.
“And in terms of the actors, they’re really just throwing themselves into it and mining these characters for all that they’re worth.”
Versions of works that differ substantially from their most widely recognised and popular forms are risky ventures. It’s always a gamble to stray from a story that people know and love, even if said version more accurately reflects the original author’s intentions. So why does James-Moody think audiences should come along and give The Original Grease a chance?
“For the most part, everything that they love about it is there,” he says.
“This version should actually enhance their enjoyment because they will actually… make an emotional connection as well… What the characters are going through… [is] something that everyone can respond to who’s ever been a teenager. You don’t have to have grown up in the 50s to make a connection with these kids and feel what they’re going through.
“I think that can only enhance your appreciation and love of Grease – if the characters feel real.”
THE ORIGINAL GREASE
Dates: 6th April to 7th May, 2016
Times: Tuesday – Saturday at 7.30pm; Matinees April 13, 16, 20, 23, 30 and May 7 at 2pm
Previews: 6th & 7th April, 2016
Opening Night: 8th April, 2016
Tickets: $59 / Concession $52 / Previews $48 / Under 30, Students & Equity $30 / Thursday Date Night 2 x tickets for $90 / Group (8+) $50pp
For more information or bookings, visit www.seymourcentre.com or phone the Seymour Centre Box Office on (02) 9351 7940.