The Columbia College Chicago Theatre Department warmly congratulates Columbia College Honorary Doctorate of Arts recipient Jim Jacobs HDR ’14 — co-author of the born-in-Chicago hit musical Grease — on the 50th anniversary of the Broadway premiere of Grease in 1972. Jacobs is the benefactor of the Jim Jacobs Musical Theatre Scholarship at Columbia College Chicago, which over the past decade has distributed more than $100,000 in scholarship aid to students in the Theatre Department’s Musical Theatre BA/BFA Program.
Grease‘s golden anniversary is being marked by “Tell Me More, Tell Me More: The Grease 50th Reunion,” a program of storytelling and song recounting the show’s history. The program will be headlined by actors Marilu Henner and James Canning, who both appeared in show’s original Chicago, Broadway, and national tour incarnations. They will be joined by Jacobs along with other Grease veterans, including Broadway producer Ken Waissman, director Tom Moore, and performers Carole Demas, Judy Kaye, Philip Casnoff, and others. “Tell Me More” will be presented twice — on Wednesday, June 1, and Monday, June 6, at 7 PM each night — at Feinstein’s/54 Below cabaret, located at 254 W. 54th St. in New York City’s midtown Manhattan Broadway Theatre District. For tickets, click here.
The Feinstein’s/54 Below program is a tie-in with the June 7 publication of Grease, Tell Me More, Tell Me More: Stories from the Broadway Phenomenon That Started It All, a collection of anecdotes and photos chronicling the landmark musical’s journey from Chicago to Broadway. Published by Chicago Review Press, the book is co-edited by original Broadway cast member Adrienne Barbeau, Broadway director Tom Moore, and Broadway producer Ken Waissman.
Jacobs and his writing partner, the late Warren Casey, wrote Grease in 1970. A native of Chicago, Jacobs based Grease on his experiences as a teenage “greaser” in the late 1950s at Taft High School on the city’s Northwest Side, where he played guitar and sang with such groups as DDT & The Dynamiters and Lefty & The El-Rays. The show premiered in February 1971 at Chicago’s Kingston Mines Theatre, one of the seminal companies in Chicago’s avant-garde Off-Loop Theatre movement of the late 1960s and early 1970s. Grease‘s runaway success in Chicago attracted the attention of New York producers Ken Waissman and Maxine Fox, who optioned the work for Broadway. In a new production with a revised script, Grease opened off-Broadway at the Eden Theatre on February 14, 1972, then transferred to the Broadhurst Theatre on Broadway, where it opened on June 7, 1972. By the time the original production closed in 1980, it had became the longest-running show in Broadway history to that time, surpassing the original run of Fiddler on the Roof. (Today, the longest-running musical in Broadway history is The Phantom of the Opera.)
Grease has been revived on Broadway twice — in 1994 and 2007 — and is also popular in regional, community, and academic theatre. Its 1978 movie version was a hit, as was the 2016 Fox TV special Grease LIVE! The song “Summer Nights,” written by Jacobs and Casey, was a hit single for the 1978 movie’s stars John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John.
Jim Jacobs received an Honorary Doctorate of Arts from Columbia College’s president, Dr. Kwang-Wu Kim, when Jacobs addressed graduating Theatre students at the 2014 Columbia College Commencement at the historic Chicago Theatre in Chicago’s Loop.
And in 2018, Jacobs was a special guest at the first-ever Columbia College Chicago Theatre Reunion, where the renovated Getz Theatre Center was unveiled.
Grease coauthors Jim Jacobs and Warren Casey wrote one other show together: Island of Lost Co-eds, a campy spoof of South Sea island movies of the 1940s that received its world premiere in 1981 at Columbia College Chicago’s Getz Theatre Center, then called the 11th Street Theatre. Directed by the Theatre Department’s then-chairperson Sheldon Patinkin and Theatre Department faculty member June Pyskacek — who, as founder of Kingston Mines Theatre, had produced Grease’s 1971 world premiere — Island of Lost Co-eds was the first mainstage production in the Getz Theatre Center after Columbia College acquired the historic building, located at 72 E. 11th St. in Chicago’s South Loop.
Though Jim Jacobs now resides in Southern California, his ties to Chicago and to Columbia College remain deep and strong. “Every child, growing up, has a dream of what they’re going to be someday,” Jacobs said when he established the Jim Jacobs Musical Theatre Scholarship at Columbia College a decade agp. “I dreamed of being an actor, a singer, a dancer — a performer. I kept thinking and saying to myself, ‘Give me a chance, I know I can do it. I really can.’ And so, here I am, many years later and extremely happy to be able to give some young person the chance he or she needs. This is for those students who once thought that what they were thinking about, most of the time, was an impossible dream.”
The Columbia College Chicago Theatre Department is proud to wish a happy anniversary to our friend Jim Jacobs and his enduring hit Grease.