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For many people, Grease may have started with John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John in the Randal Kleiser Hollywood film version of the 1971 Broadway musical of the same name, but time has proven that the title has become one of the best classic evolutionary product of opera history minus the famous divas and celebrities.
Grease came from the genius of Warren Casey and Jim Jacobs after the 1950’s working class subculture among the youth enjoying their automobiles and called “greasers.” The musical, though, is set towards the end of the decade, 1959, at a time considered the most carefree and prosperous in US history and the production value itself became a landmark in American contemporary musical theater history.
Grease is about a 1959 senior class at the Rydell High, the growing affection between the hot rod enthusiast Danny Zuko and a prompt pretty girl Sandy Domborwski. It’s a simple narrative about your classic boy meets girl, ends up with the girl and in between you have song and dance numbers that have endeared the material to audiences across two generations now. All-time favorites include “Greased Lightning”, “Summer Night”, “Alone at the Drive-in”, “It’s raining on Prom Night” and “You’re The One That I Want” from the movie adaptation.
Grease joins the ranks as among the most well-loved productions in musical theater history that includes “Phantom of the Opera”, :Sound of Music”, South Pacific”, “Camelot”, ”Cats”, and “Evita”, to mention a few, that will keep you humming a couple of songs as you go home. The 1972 premiere earned it seven Tony awards that included Best Musical. Its 1994 revival earned it three Tony awards including Best Revival of a Musical, while the Broadway revival in 2007 garnered two Tony Awards including the same category award.
Since its Broadway and West End premieres in 1971 and 1972, respectively, it went on to have revivals in 1993 (London), 1994 (Broadway and a US tour), 2007 (Broadway and London), and 2010 (Chicago). It also had US tours in 2008, 210 and 2011. In addition, international performances were everywhere which included European and South American stages, with successful revivals especially in Mexico, Spain and New Zealand.
There are no more operas being written these days and musical stage productions have become the 20th century end-product in evolutionary opera history. Teenagers of the 21st century will easily warm up to it, despite having none of the rap and hip hop of concerts they generally prefer. The music of Grease music has proven itself timeless and the various productions have been immortalized in countless CD releases here and overseas. Grease now sits among the masterpieces of the world’s musical theater history as a classic specimen of contemporary American Broadway musical genre.
Hollywood may lord it over the entertainment markets with its blockbuster content on the big screen, but stage and theater productions that opera history has shown evolved into in the 20th century will remain at the heart and core of American entertainment. There’s just something about seeing the performance unfold in real time on stage that cinema could not duplicate. The following are considered the more attended stage productions in musical theater history that have topped 5,000 performances in either West End or Broadway.
Les Misérables, premiered in Paris in 1980, London in 1985 and Broadway in1987, comes from the literature of Claude-Michel Schönberg, with Alain Boublil as the composer and Herbert Kretzmer as the English lyricist. With more than 10,500 performances in London, it is West End’s longest-running production in London’s musical theater history. It had 6,680 performances in Broadway and won 8 Tony Awards including Best Musical in 1987.
The Phantom of the Opera, premiered in London in 1986 and Broadway m 1988, was a dramatic and musical creation from Andrew Lloyd Webber with lyrics mostly from Charles Hart with some collaboration from Alan Jay Lerner and Richard Stilgoe. It had more than 10,300 performances in London) and with 9,800 performances, was the longest-running production in Broadway’s musical theater history. It was a sensation in its West End run that launched the career of crossover soprano Sarah Brightman who, together with other leads made Phantom one of the first great fusion of rock and operatic singing in modern opera history. It went on to win the Outstanding Musical along with 8 of 9 nominations in the Drama Desk Awards, London’s Tony counterpart. Its US run was no less phenomenal with the top 7 out of 10 Tony Award nominations.
Cats, another Andrew Lloyd Webber musical based on T. S. Eliot’s work, is the second longest running production in Broadway with 7,485 after its premiere in 1981 and the 4th in London’s West End with 8,947 performances. Winning several awards including the Sir Lawrence Olivier and Tony awards for Best Musical, Cats introduced to the world the highly popular song “Memory” made famous by Elaine Page and several other subsequent recording artists..
Starlight Express, a rock musical from Andrew Lloyd Webber with lyrics from Richard Stilgoe had its West End, premiered in 1984 followed by 7,406 performances with the entire cast performing on roller skates. It became the most popular musical production in Germany but was not as successful in Broadway with only 761 performances. Subsequent productions saw plot and lyric revisions made by David Yatzbek and Don Black.