Restored and Raunchy, The Original Grease Begins Performances in Chicago, Where It All Began

News   Restored and Raunchy, The Original Grease Begins Performances in Chicago, Where It All Began
American Theater Company in Chicago revives the internationally popular musical Grease as few have seen it before. A production dubbed The Original Grease — the R-rated original 1971 version, restored — begins performances April 23.

Kelly Davis Wilson and Adrian Aguilar
Kelly Davis Wilson and Adrian Aguilar Photo by Michael Brosilow

Before it was a Broadway hit and film sensation, Grease was a gritty Chicago-set play with music that reflected the lives, language and tensions of Windy City teens in the 1950s.

This production of the first version of the modern American classic by Jim Jacobs and the late Warren Casey marks the first time this text has been seen since the early 1970s. There is also a new "frame" to the show that features older actors playing the senior selves the greasers, attending a high school reunion. Performances continue to June 26. Many performances are already sold out.

The production, directed by ATC artistic director PJ Paparelli and choreographed by Jim Corti, is billed as "the restored, revised, R-rated" original Grease. It features Adrian Aguilar as Danny Zuko and Kelly Davis Wilson as Sandy Dumbroski in a cast of 26.

Director Paparelli told, "What is unique about The Original Grease is its form. It is an ensemble musical theatre piece with an extensive book and songs that stem right out of the action. While there are over 20 musical moments, you won't find traditional musical theatre staging but rather musical extensions of the scenes. In many ways, we have approached it as a documentary about Chicago's Northwest side in 1959.

"Jim and I have focused the revisions on capturing an authentic voice and world of working-class Italian and Polish teens and their search for their identity. These kids identified with rock 'n' roll, greasy hair, greasy food, and grease from under the hood of a car. Grease was their identity on the outside, while inside, they were a tight-knit community, brought together by ethnicity, family, and geography." Paparelli added, "I think people will be surprised by the amount of emotion in this Grease. In addition to nostalgia, I want people to draw an emotional connection to their own adolescence, in particular the teens of today. It's a challenging time for everyone. But it's also a time of great joy and freedom. I think this Grease celebrates all that."

PJ Paparelli

The company also includes Tony Clarno (Kenickie), Jessica Diaz (Rizzo), Bubba Weiler (Doody), Robert Colletti (Roger), Patrick De Nicola (Sonny), Tyler Ravelson (Miller), Jessie Fisher (Frenchy), Carol Rose (Marty), Sadieh Rifai (Jan), Hannah Gomez (Cha-Cha Degregorio), Adam Shalzi (Eugene Florczyk), Michael Accardo (Vince Fontaine, Officer Maiale, Coach Grabowski), Bryan Connor (Johnny Casino, Teen Angel), Peggy Roeder (Miss Mildred Lynch), Alaina Mills (Patty Simcox) and Tom Lally (The Old Bum, Jan's father).

Of the class-reunion angle, Paparelli told, "The 1971 original Chicago production started with a ten year reunion where the cast played themselves, aged [by] ten years. Miss Lynch and the principal, Dr. Devlin, presided over the reunion. The conceit was that the audience were actually at the reunion and not in the theatre.

"In order to maintain that conceit 40 years later, we needed to double cast the roles with an age-appropriate cast. Also, Jim invited me to his 50th-year high school reunion, where I met many of the actual greasers who inspired the characters in the play. I was struck by the emotion in the room, in particular around the classmates that were no longer with us. After that experience, Jim and I crafted a new ending where the alumni have a moment with their younger selves. That is new for this production."

The Rydell High 50th Reunion Alumni are Susan Fay (Patricia Simcox Honeywell), Alan Barinholtz (Eugene Florczyk), Tom Lally (Kenickie), Mark Shallow (Doody), Anthony Dale Kolton (Roger), Judi Schindler (Frenchy) and Danon Dastugue (Jan).

Read's recent feature about this "new-old" Grease.

Here's how ATC bills the restored show: "Chicago. 1959. Before two movies and three Broadway productions, summer lovin' happened on Lake Michigan and the Pink Ladies were a group of working class outsiders living on Chicago's Northwest Side. Including never-before-heard music, lyrics and scenes, author Jim Jacobs teams up with artistic director PJ Paparelli and choreographer Jim Corti to bring to life for the first time since 1971 the original R-Rated version of the world's most famous movie musical."

Performances will play ATC's home at 1909 W. Byron, Chicago, IL. Opening night is May 2.

Grease has book, music and lyrics by Jim Jacobs and Warren Casey. Musical direction is by Roberta Duchak. Orchestration is by Malcolm Ruhl.

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