Musicals in Italy are a relatively new experience: so far, Italian audiences have generally seen small scale low-budget touring productions, while big international hits like Les Miserables, The Phantom of the Opera or Miss Saigon have never been performed in this country.
But the opening, in March 1997, at Milan's Teatro Nuovo of an all-Italian new production of Grease, the first musical with a considerable budget, at least for Italian standards, seems to have paved the way for a different approach to the genre. As a matter of fact, the production broke many box office records, grossing over a billion lire ($550,000 US) in advance sales and an overall eight billion lire ($4.5 million US) in its 175 sell-out performances (the show was originally scheduled to run for eight weeks).
Grease is now moving to Rome, where it opens an eight weeks run at the capital's Teatro Sistina on Apr. 21. Grossing over 2 billion lire ($1.1 million US) in advance sales, the Rome run seems destined to beat Milan's records.
The popular television star Lorella Cuccarini, at her first important experience at the theatre, leads a cast of 50 playing the role of Sandy, while young actor Giampiero Ingrassia plays Danny. Also starring are Michele Carfora (Kenickie), Renata Fusco (Rizzo), pop singer Mal (Teen Angel), and TV conductor Marco Predolin (Vince Fontaine).
The Italian production of Grease is directed by Saverio Marconi (whose credits include A Chorus Line, Cabaret, West Side Story and a recent Paris production of Maury Yeston's Nine) and features scenes by Aldo De Lorenzo, costumes by Zaira De Vincentiis and choreography by Franco Miseria. The show is produced by "Musical Italia" under the artistic direction of Saverio Marconi and Silvio Testi, who features also as a musical supervisor. Giuseppe Vessicchio is the musical director. Silvio Testi and Michele Renzullo translated into Italian Jim Jacobs and Warren Casey's book and lyrics. Since its opening in New York's Eden Theatre on Feb. 14, 1972, Grease obtained immediate acclaim and received seven Tony nominations. Jacobs and Casey's score, which transports audiences back to the rock'n'roll days of the 50s, includes international hits such as "Summer nights" ("Sere d'estate" in the Italian translation), "Look at me, I'm Sandra Dee" and "Greased Lightnin'".
The original production of Grease, with its 3,338 performances, is the third-longest running show in Broadway history (only Cats and A Chorus Line did better), and the recent revival which closed Jan. 25 is the second-longest running revival. The first London production, in 1973, starred a then unknown 24-years-old Richard Gere as Danny. Elaine Paige was also in the company as an understudy, and eventually took over the role of Sandy.
In London the show was revived again in 1979 and again in 1993. All the recent productions, including the Italian one, incorporate several songs ("You're The One That I Want", "Sandy") that were written by Brian Gibb, John Farrar, Louis St. Louis, and Scott Simon for the 1978 smash-hit film, starring John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John.
The film was re-released in the U.S. on Mar. 27 by Paramount Pictures in a newly remasterised version, in honor of its 20th anniversary, and grossed almost 15 million dollars at the box office ranking number 2, behind Cameron's Titanic, in the week Mar. 27-Apr. 2.
A cast album of the Italian production of Grease, one of the first to be produced in Italy, was published last December by Emi.
Tickets for Grease are available at the Teatro Sistina box office (tel. +39 6 48.26.841) and at various ticket agencies in Rome including Prontospettacolo (tel. +39 6 22.214.171.124) and Box Office (tel. +39 6 37.20.216). Further information may be found at the Teatro Sistina website or at the Musical che spettacolo! website.
--By Stefano Curti