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Considering that anniversaries are deemed significant when they end in “5” or “0,” why make a big deal of GREASE’s 52nd?

Yet 52 is an apt number because young producers Ken Waissman and Maxine Fox proved that by bringing this ‘50s rock musical to Broadway they were indeed playing with a full deck.

In honor of their greatest triumph, here are 52 GREASE-Y facts.

1. In 2022, Waissman, original director Tom Moore and original Betty Rizzo, Adrienne Barbeau. celebrated the musical’s golden anniversary by creating a GREASE oral history. They talked to and culled remembrances from dozens of people who’d been connected to the musical.

2. Marilu Henner – more on her later – suggested they take their title from a “Summer Nights” lyric. They agreed; hence, GREASE: TELL ME MORE, TELL ME MORE.

3. It all started in 1971 when Waissman’s college friend told him to see a community theater production in Chicago. Although the theater had no seats – everyone sat on the floor on newspapers – Waissman saw potential, as did Fox when she caught the final performance.

4. So, they moved it to New York where, at the first preview, stagehands forgot to pre-set the school cafeteria table where Rizzo would sit. That caused Barbeau to lug the thing on with her as she entered.

5. A song called “Yeucch” was cut after the first preview. (And based on the title alone, aren’t you glad it was?)

6.  Moore said that a full 30% of the show changed in the 24 hours after that first preview.

7.  One problem was that Danny Zuko and Sandy Dumbrowski originally didn’t have much to do. Barry Bostwick and Carole Demas were very happy when the focus switched to them.

8. When a new song was needed, Jim Jacobs wrote “Rock ‘n’ Roll Party Queen” in 30 minutes.

9. Waissman remembered that teen girls in the ‘50s wore skirts with poodles emblazoned on them, so he had costume designer Carrie Robbins make one for Sandy. Moore didn’t approve, but the first audience to see it laughed with such recognition that the dress with the bitch stayed.

10. During previews, many cast members believed the show would fail. Backstage they’d sing an actual ‘50s pop-rock hit: “Get a Job.”

(Actually, they wouldn’t need to seek employment for years.)

11. Who’d expect that the esteemed John Houseman (of THE CRADLE WILL ROCK and Juilliard fame) would make a suggestion about the set that greatly helped this commercial musical comedy?

12. Because many ‘50s rock songs concluded with a fade-out, GREASE’s did, too – until original Roger Walter Bobbie (the future director of the CHICAGO revival) suggested that his “Mooning” have a button. Soon all songs did.

13. When Waissman and Fox needed more funds, they found Anthony D’Amato, an angel who wasn’t angelic. Co-author Warren Casey, usually meek and mild, roared at D’Amato’s criticisms and threatened to throw him out the window.

14. When Rizzo’s “There Are Worse Things I Could Do” wasn’t landing, Sylvia Herscher, Jule Styne’s right-hand-woman who didn’t know rock music from a pet rock, was savvy enough to make a suggestion that turned the song into a showstopper.

15. Most reviews weren’t good. General Manager Eddie Davis urged Waissman and Fox to close it. They wouldn’t for some time.

16. When Jacobs wasn’t happy with the cast album and protested to Waissman, both got into an intense fistfight. Luckily Jim Borelli, the production’s Sonny, was strong enough to break it up.

17. Because GREASE played the Eden Theatre on Second Avenue, Alexander Cohen, then helming the Tonys, felt that the location should make it ineligible. Waissman and Fox argued that they were under a Broadway contract; Cohen reluctantly relented.

18. GREASE garnered seven Tony nominations, including Best Musical. But winning any was the longest of shots, for many midtown voters wouldn’t venture downtown.

19. So, Waissman and Fox made the Broadhurst GREASE’s new home. The Royale and Majestic would ultimately follow.

20. An 18-year-old kid wanted to play Zuko. Despite “only” being offered an on-tour Doody, he decided to take it. His manager and famous casting director Lynn Stalmaster urged him to decline.

John Travolta disregarded their advice.

21. Marilu Henner, who’d played Marty in that original Chicago stint, did just the opposite when her advisers told her not to bother auditioning for the original Broadway company, for the show would surely bomb. Four years later, she auditioned for Broadway and regained the role of Marty.

22. One reason that John Travolta wanted to do the tour was that his older sister Ann was an understudy on it.

23. And when you hear what Ann Travolta sang to audition for this teen-centric ‘50s rock musical, you may feel that she’d lost her mind.

Sondheim’s “Losing My Mind.”

24. Minutes before the tour’s first preview in Boston, the actress playing Rizzo made a mistake with her contact lenses. Instead of the correct fluid, she used astringent and was soon in a hospital’s emergency room.

She was Judy Kaye.

25. John Travolta said that by watching many Zukos, he “could see exactly what worked and what didn’t, and what might work better.” It certainly helped when he auditioned for the film.

26. When Greg Evigan was Zuko on Broadway, he was told he’d be dispatched to Chicago so that Jeff Conaway could play the Royale. When he told a family friend that he’d preferred to stay in New York, the “gentleman” said he could arrange to have his knees broken.

27. Evigan declined.

28. A ten-year-old named Jennifer became a GREASE groupie who received such attention from the cast that her father decided to give each performer a charge account at his establishment.

29. He was Vincent Sardi.

30. Cynthia Darlow’s getting cast as Jan in the bus-and-truck came at the perfect time, because her apartment no longer had gas and electricity.

(You can infer why.)

31. Richard Cox, the San Francisco Zuko, was afraid when he came out the stage door and found four Hell’s Angels waiting for him.

32. No! They loved him and the show, and said they’d even come to Los Angeles to see GREASE on the next leg of the tour.

33. Indeed they did. One afternoon, when Cox was scheduled to see Alvin Ailey, he offered them the chance to see it with him, never expecting that they would.

34. But they did.

35. When a tour arrived at West Point, the crew was surprised to see cadets offering to carry the set into the theater and clean and repair it. The crew said an expected “Yes!”

36. Frank Piegaro played Zuko at a Sunday matinee after he had run – and completed – the New York City Marathon.

37. Dorothy Leon, the original Miss Lynch, became incensed when Bob Garrett made two fingers into a “V” and put them over her head, and later when Philip Casnoff phallically extended his guitar neck between his legs.

38. Each was portraying Johnny Casino, the bandleader who played the school dance. Does something in that character induce mischief?

39. Understudy Malcolm Groome “sometimes felt like my fellow understudies and I were considered second-class citizens by the first string. In many ways, it seemed like a high school.”

40. When Ilene Kristen, who played Patty, saw Tennessee Williams backstage one night, she guessed that he was there “probably waiting to meet Barry Bostwick.”

41. Danny Jacobson, who later created MAD ABOUT YOU, recalled Norfolk theater manager “Ms. Kate” demanding changes in the filthy show and was furious when the cast didn’t make them.

42. Kate’s ire didn’t last long, for later that night she took Jacobson to bed. 

43. Lisa Raggio auditioned for Frenchie with the experience of “two high school plays, LITTLE MARY SUNSHINE and THE PAJAMA GAME.” Her unimpressive credentials sounded worse when she added that she’d been “directed by nuns.”

44. Raggio’s lack of experience was revealed when Moore directed her to “strike the wine bottle on your exit.” She thought she was doing the right thing when she gave the bottle a solid slap.

45. That brings us to assistant director Nancy Robbins. “The wonderful thing about GREASE,” she said, “is that for many it was their first professional job.” Credit to Waissman and Fox for bringing such joy not just to audiences, but also to performers.

46. On December 8, 1979, with performance 3,243, GREASE surpassed FIDDLER ON THE ROOF as Broadway’s longest-running attraction.

47. Four months later, it was gone, but GREASE wasn’t finished with Broadway. In 1994, nine-time Tony-winner Tommy Tune supervised a revival. It yielded a still-available cast album with Rosie O’Donnell as Rizzo.

48. This revival was one of only four book musicals to reach over 1,500 performances. 42ND STREET, CABARET and CHICAGO (of course) are the others. Granted, GREASE’s 1,505 just makes it onto the list, but it still counts.

49. In 2007 came another revival that yielded a still-available cast album. It ran a more than respectable 554 performances.

50. Since the Tonys began, GREASE is the only musical to become the longest running in Broadway history to lose the Tony as Best Musical. MY FAIR LADY, HELLO, DOLLY!, FIDDLER ON THE ROOF, A CHORUS LINE, CATS and THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA all did both.

51. Add in those two revivals, and GREASE has never won a Tony in any category.


52. In an interview I once conducted with John Guare, the co-librettist and lyricist for the 1971-72 Tony-winning Best Musical TWO GENTLEMEN OF VERONA, I asked if he thought his show would best the beloved FOLLIES.

He said, “Frankly, I thought GREASE would win.”

And in many, many ways … it has.

Peter Filichia can be heard most weeks of the year on His new book – BRAINTEASERS FOR BROADWAY GENIUSES – is now available on Amazon and at The Drama Book Shop.