Okay, we’re four episodes into Encore at this point, so you know my usual format. Some bad puns based on the musical featured on this week’s, the breakdown, and then the Disney connections. However, we have a more important matter to discuss. Full disclosure, these are written way before the episodes are released on Disney+. In fact, I’m writing this the day before launch. So, how’s the site? Did it crash opening day? Have I been sent to an institution for watching Out of the Box too much? Actually, don’t answer that last one.
With this in mind, there’s a sense of mystery involved for this week’s episode. Yesterday (11/10/19, as I type), Disney+ posted an Instagram story releasing the full list of shows represented this season. It was exciting to finally see the official list of properties covered, especially since many weren’t featured in the show’s trailer. Episode 4 is clearly Grease. The video that was posted featured Danny and Sandy frolicking about and wishing that Greased Lightnin’ could take them away.
Yet, this is what was posted on the Instagram story as the title for the show:
Summer. Lovin’. You know, that world-famous, instantly recognizable property SUMMER LOVIN’. Reader, I read that title and immediately jumped out my second story window screaming “WHAT?!” and “HOW?!” The mystery comes into play as I’m not entirely sure if this was a typo or a licensing issue and whether it will continue into the episode. I must be completely honest though, I really want it to continue. The awkwardness of trying to skirt around the fact they can’t legally say the name of this obvious musical will fuel me for a thousand years.
Okay, rant over. Onto the breakdown.
Episode 4: Grease
Book: Jim Jacobs & Warren Casey
Music & Lyrics: Jim Jacobs & Warren Casey
Based on: The writers’ lives growing up in Chicago, IL in the 1950s
Broadway Premiere: June 7, 1972 at the Broadhurst Theatre
But, like, any Tony Awards?: 7 Nominations, 0 Wins
Best Song, as decided by me alone: “Summer Nights,” because I’m a human being
The Grease you know and love? Honey, that ain’t Grease. The first production premiered in 1971 in Chicago and it was the complete opposite of what we know today. The original production was based on the writers experience in high schools in Chicago, so the show was quite referential. The Greasers and Pink Ladies were actual gangs in their high school, made up of teenagers, and laced with profanity like normal high schoolers talk. Its content was quite satirical, really beating down the idealistic stereotypes that the 1950s bring to mind.
However, what we ended up getting was a watered-down version that was the antithesis of what was originally presented: a pastel technicolor ode to the 50s, minus literally any bad part. Yes, there are references to teenage pregnancy, violence, sexual awakenings, etc., but all in neutered ways.
The show premiered off-Broadway in February of 1972. Even though it was located in downtown Manhattan, the show utilized first class Broadway contracts, and for that weird reason, it was eligible for Tony Awards. It later moved to the Broadhurst Theatre in June of 1972; in November of the same year, it moved to the Royale Theatre, now known as the Jacobs. It ran for 3388 performances and closed in April of 1980. At the time, it was the longest-running show in Broadway history.
The Disney connections are, once again, pretty slim for this show, whether you call it Grease or Summer Lovin’. The show was originally directed by Tom Moore, who had an extensive Broadway career directing Tony-award winning shows. He also has a large list of TV directing credits, including ABC shows thirtysomething and Dharma & Greg.
The biggest connection is, arguably, the film’s star John Travolta. Almost 30 years after his Grease days, John starred a string of Disney films (Thanks Dick Cook?) including Wild Hogs, Old Dogs, and Bolt. Only of those films is good! Fun!
Randal Kleiser, the film’s director, went on to direct Honey, I Blew Up the Kid. He also directed Honey, I Shrunk the Audience, which gave me nightmares for an extended part of my childhood. Thanks Randal!
Also, Olivia Newton John starred in Xanadu, which was then brought to Broadway in 2008 starring Kerry Butler, who has a fantastic album of Disney covers, which includes a rendition of “Disneyland” from the musical Smile, which was written by Howard Ashman & Alan Menken, and Menken famously wrote the music for Hercules! And that was the first round of Six Degrees of Hercules. *takes a bow* My work here is done.
So yeah, Grease and/or Summer Lovin’ has a weird history, a weird legacy, and a weird set of Disney connections. You win some, you lose some, you dropout of some. What can ya do!
*Be sure to check out the hyperlinks throughout the article and future pieces in this series for clips from the show, random musical theater references, and canonical items from my life that deserve to be shared amongst the masses*