Before Grease, the hit 1978 movie, there was Grease, the 1971 musical theater production first performed in Chicago before moving to Broadway a year later for more than 3,000 performances.
Adrienne Barbeau, who played Rizzo during the first five months of the show’s run, helped commemorate the 50th anniversary of the production as a co-editor of the 2022 book, Grease, Tell Me More, Tell Me More: Stories from the Broadway Phenomenon That Started It All. It features personal anecdotes from the Broadway cast and crew.
“It stemmed from a Zoom meeting the original cast had when the pandemic first shut everything down,” Barbeau said of the book, from her home in Los Angeles. “The stories everybody told were just so delightful and touching and funny, and most of them all new to me because I left the show early on.”
Barbeau and two others involved in the production began assembling the stories.
“We sent a questionnaire to over 100 actors, musicians, and crew members who had worked on the show, asking them to write down their stories,” Barbeau said. “We put it all together in a terrific tribute to the show.”
Despite her strong connection to Grease, Barbeau still has not seen the 1978 film version — which has many differences, including some of the music, from the original musical.
“I happened to hear one of the songs from the movie a long time back, which was one of my songs,” she said. “It was lovely what they had done with it, but it just was not what we had done. So, I decided never to watch the film so I could keep the memory of our show and not cloud it with another version.”
Though her career began in musical theater, Barbeau left the stage production of Grease to co-star in the TV comedy Maude throughout the 70s.
In the early 80s, Barbeau starred in several genre films (Swamp Thing, The Fog, Escape from New York, and Creepshow), forever cementing her movie status as a horror sex symbol (see www.abarbeau.com).
“The transition to more dramatic roles was never by design,” Barbeau said. “Somebody offered me something I wanted to do or needed to do to pay bills. I ended up playing strong women who were not victims, and they were often interesting and challenging roles.”
She continued: “People always say, ‘Oh, you were a sex symbol.’ But I like to remind them my first love scene in film was with a swamp monster!”