The lyrics from the theme to "Grease" are pretty ridiculous. To quote them: "Grease is the word." Why is it the word? How is that even possible? Not only that, Grease is supposedly "the time" and "the place" and "the motion!"
That song was written by Barry Gibb for the film. Other hits like "Hopelessly Devoted to You" and "You're the One That I Want" are not in the stage version of "Grease" either, but in recent years various "Grease" productions have incorporated these songs into the stage play. Director Brian Swasey from the upcoming Maui OnStage production will offer a combination of "Grease" incarnations from the past 40 years.
Originally "Grease" was set in the gritty, blue-collar world of northwest Chicago, where many first- and second-generation children of Jewish, Italian, Irish, Russian, Polish and Greek immigrants mixed in the rough North Chicago high schools. Co-Creator Jim Jacobs based most of the characters on his real-life high school experience at Taft High School in Norwood Park.
Eric Peterson is Danny and Jacqui Sherwood plays Sandy in Maui OnStage’s “Grease”
JACK GRACE photo
One of those classmates was Terry Kath, co-founder of the band "Chicago." Jacobs was an amateur guitarist who idolized Elvis in school but was only ever able to play four chords well: C, A minor, F and G7. Those four chords evolved into the beginnings of "Grease," the song "Those Magic Changes" from the eventual Broadway musical.
In the early '60s Jacobs became a member of "The Second City," where he performed with Paul Sills, Alan Arkin, Fred Willard, Robert Klein and Peter Boyle. Jacobs juggled two lives during that time, trying to make it as an actor while maintaining a full-time job at an advertising agency.
In 1969 he met actor Warren Casey, co-founder of the Tony Award-winning Victory Gardens Theater and frequent cast member in early David Mamet plays. The two shared an interest in 1950s rock 'n' roll.
Jacobs brought music and humor, and Casey brought a gritty, edgy, raw quality to the script. The very first version opened at Kingston Mines Theater in the Old Town section of Chicago in 1971. Within a few months Broadway came calling, but they suggested some changes. Jacobs is quoted as saying, "We were told it was necessary to make the characters lovable, instead of scaring everybody. The show went from about three- quarters book and one-quarter music to one-quarter book and three-quarters music."
"Grease" continues to evolve every decade, and each production has the freedom to present anywhere from a G-rated to R-rated version. Maui OnStage's production should fall somewhere in the middle.
I interviewed Maui's Sandy, Jacqui Sherwood, about the upcoming production.
"Sandy is an iconic character that I grew up with, I've never seen myself as a leading lady, but I'm embracing the challenge," Sherwood said. "It's intimidating. I'm trying to look at Sandy as a character, not as Olivia Newton-John. I'm focusing on the history of Sandy's; I want to tell her story not Olivia Newton-John's."
Sherwood has been performing since childhood.
"I was very outgoing as I child, I always wanted to perform for people," she said. "I started in community theater at 8, and whenever I learned a new song I would try to perform at a local bar, Friar Tuck's in Grass Valley, California. One time I even got a $1 tip."
Sherwood went on to be accepted into the Tisch program at NYU. "We studied all aspects of theater. I almost went into directing but I chose acting instead."
After graduation, Sherwood had to work so much to pay bills that she no longer had time for acting, so she moved to Maui to join her mother, taking a long hiatus from acting until landing the female lead in 2010's "The Wedding Singer."
"I want to make theater a constant part of my life, but I haven't figured out how to go about doing that and I want to do projects that I'm excited about."
I asked if she was excited about "Grease," she replied: "I'm super excited to do this show! It allows actors to explore these iconic characters, and its wide appeal excites the whole community to come out and see it.
"This show was so well-cast, and every actor is so committed. From the first read through, everyone was willing to dive right in and show off an already developed new side of these classic characters."
* The timeless American classic "Grease" opens Friday, Feb. 24, and runs through March 11. Book, music and lyrics by Jim Jacobs and Warren Casey. Directed by New York guest director/choreographer Brian Swasey. The Maui ensemble cast includes Eric Peterson, Jacqui Sherwood, Lia Krieg, Rueben Carrion, Patty Silva, Jonna Ahn, Aly Cardinalli and Jerry Eiting. Performances are Fridays and Saturdays at 7:30 p.m. and Sundays at 3 p.m. at the Historic Iao Theater. Tickets are $40 and $22; keiki 12 and younger are $15. Dinner packages available with Caf O'Lei and Bistro Casanova. For tickets or more information, call the Maui OnStage box office at 242-6969 or visit mauionstage.com.
Agatha Christie's "The Mousetrap," a murder-mystery play, opens Friday and runs through March 4 at the ProArts Playhouse in Kihei. "The Mousetrap," the longest- running play in history, is the tale of eight suspected murderers snowed in at a wealthy British Manor. Shhh, it's a theater tradition to keep the ending a secret. Directed by Kristi Scott and featuring Rose Roselinsky, Dale Button, Mark Collmer, Jennifer Rose, Christopher Rose, Dylan Bode, Felicia Chernicki and Frances Tau'a.
* "The Mousetrap" plays Thursdays through Saturdays at 7:30 p.m. and Sundays at 3 p.m. Reserved seats for adults are $20; students 18 and under are $15. Ask about the ProArts $15 Kama'aina Nights on Saturday with valid Hawaii ID. For reservations or more information, call 463-6550 or visit proartspacific.com.
The Maui Preparatory Academy's Middle School Drama class presents "Broadway Bound," a revue of favorite songs and scenes from many Broadway shows including "It's A Hard-Knock Life" from "Annie," "Anything You Can Do I Can Do Better" from "Annie Get Your Gun," "Amayzing Maize" from "Seussical" and featuring Sarah Wilhelm, Danielle Bergson, Suniva Thangaraj and Jalila Samari and a special appearance by high school student Camille Comet.
* "Broadway Bound" plays tonight at 7 p.m. and Friday at 9 p.m. at the Maui Preparatory Academy in Lahaina, 4910 Honoapiilani Highway. Tickets are $5 and can be purchased through the Maui Prep office, 665-9966, and at Lahaina Music, 661-7625.
Seabury Hall Performing Arts presents "The Cherry Orchard" by Anton Chekhov at Seabury Hall, weekends starting Feb. 24 through March 4. The play follows an aristocratic Russian family and the family's well-known cherry orchard estate just before it is auctioned to pay the mortgage. The student cast includes Celina Bekins, Gabrielle Bega, Laura Mayron, Gregory Saydah, Zeb Mehring, Ryan Noufer, Carter Umetsu, Allie Moskow, Taka Tsutsui, Brendan Wilson, Wyatt West, Danielle Ferrer and Cassidy Ross. Directed by Todd Van Amburgh.
* "The Cherry Orchard" plays Fridays and Saturdays at 7 p.m., with one Sunday matinee at 3 p.m. on March 4. Tickets are $11 for adults, $9 for seniors and $5 for students. For tickets or more information, call 573-1257.
Kamehameha Schools Maui Drama Club presents a musical review retitled "Our Time" Feb. 24 through March 3. The Drama Club has put together a show that will feature vignettes from "Voices from the High School," "Yearbook," "Sammy Carducci's Guide to Women and Looking for Corky Johnson," along with songs from "Fame," "Anyone Can Whistle," and "Merrily We Roll Along." Director Alexis Dascoulias teams with choreographer Aly Cardinalli and musical director Tana Larson.
* "Our Time" performances are Fridays and Saturdays at 7:30 p.m. at the Kamehameha Schools Maui campus in Kula. Admission is free and reservations are not required.