Chicago locations in The Original Grease
Co-creator Jim Jacobs and American Theater Company restore Grease’s Chicago roots.
Before Grease became a gauzy California-set film starring John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John in 1978, a vehicle for a rotating cast of D-list celebs in a ’90s Broadway revival or, more recently, fodder for a casting reality show, it was a grubby Chicago hit. Billed as “a new ’50s rock ’n’ roll musical,” Grease opened on February 8, 1971, at the Kingston Mines Theatre in Lincoln Park. Writers Jim Jacobs and Warren Casey based the show in part on Jacobs’s experiences as a student at Taft High.
Until it was bowdlerized for Broadway, the show was filled with Chicago-specific references to the Palmer House, the Hub roller rink, Riverview, Carson’s and Field’s; Kenickie and Rizzo hung out at Foster Beach, and Greased Lightning got a “douche job” at Harlem and Lawrence. Grease’s “Burger Palace Boys” had a basis in the greaser gangs of Taft High.
“They were always known as ‘the boys’ of that place where they hung out. We were in actual fact called the Kennelly boys, for Kennelly’s Pizza,” Jacobs says in a phone conversation. “It was the hot dog stand, Parse’s, on one side of the street, and Kennelly’s on the other. So of course in the winter months you were in the warm pizza restaurant, and in the summer at the outdoor drive-up place. They became the combination of the Burger Palace.” As American Theater Company prepares to open The Original Grease, a restored, “R-rated” version created with Jacobs’s help, we mapped out some points of interest.
The Original Grease is in previews, opening Monday 2.