Jim Jacobs Essay - Critical Essays

Jacobs, Jim


Jim Jacobs 1942– Warren Casey 1942(?)–

American playwrights and composers. Jacobs and Casey are the creators of Grease, the rock'n'roll musical which parodies the fifties while rendering it timeless. One of Broadway's most popular plays, its success stems primarily from its authentic depiction of high school kids interacting naturally without adult interference. It is based on the standard boy-meets-girl theme, such as in the clichéd teen romance movies of Troy Donahue and Sandra Dee, but the several original twists it applies to this theme give it a lively and unhackneyed approach. The emphasis of Grease is on the camaraderie of young people, and it subtly comments on group acceptance and psychology. However, it avoids any direct references to the era's serious events and resolves any problems that its characters have by the end of the play. Grease presents the fifties as a decade of fun and good times, and it is considered responsible, along with George Lucas's film American Graffiti, for spawning the nostalgia trend of the early 1970s. Both of its authors grew up during the fifties, and recall and recapture it without sentimentality. Jacobs is an actor, writer, and musician who used his own experiences as a high school greaser as the basis for much of the play's plot and dialogue. Casey is a songwriter and actor whose theatre company, The Kingston Mines, staged the original production of Grease in Chicago. Their lyrics and dialogue are clever and full of double entendres, sexual raunchiness, and many fifties' allusions. Their songs reflect both teenage trauma and celebration, and are done tongue-in-cheek in the styles of performers such as Elvis Presley, the Everly Brothers, and the Teen Queens. Grease has been criticized for an overall lack of seriousness, unmemorable musical material, and for what some critics feel is a thin storyline. It is generally considered, however, to have successfully merged rock and musical theater much in the manner of Hair and Godspell. Designed purely for entertainment, its youthful high spirits and universal good humor keep it fresh and enjoyable for contemporary young people.

Walter Kerr

"Grease" is a mostly agreeable musical about the very last moment in time when boys submitted to haircuts (though they were training them to duck-tails), when cigarettes and wine were the makings of girls' pajama parties, when hubcaps were highly thought of as objects worth snatching, and when at least one of the kids around Rydell High ('59) could be heard cursing himself for having forgotten it was Friday and having eaten a hamburger….

The show's state of mind is disarming, its sociology would seem to be accurate (I wasn't in high school at the time), its tunes by Jim Jacobs and Warren Casey are often attractive in themselves as well as wryly nostalgic, and its two principals are so personable and so skilled that I wish the composer-librettists had had the plain good sense to concentrate on them more….

If "Grease" becomes attenuated and rather wearing in the second half, it's because it keeps replaying its atmospheric effects instead of getting on with what probably ought to be the love story. It dawdles over jargon too much, as though just hearing the lunchroom, street-corner, school-gym inflections of the period would be enough to keep us content between numbers. It wastes time on a rumble that's going nowhere and doesn't quite seem to belong to begin with. And it starts up paths—one of the girls gets pregnant—it isn't going to bother to pursue. The book rambles, and has to keep picking up after itself, which is a chore.

But some of the numbers … are worth the waiting even if you didn't graduate from Rydell in '59. Those who did are probably going to be entirely happy. (p. 3)

Walter Kerr, in The New York Times (© 1972 by The New York Times Company; reprinted by permission), February 2, 1972.

Edith Oliver

["Grease"] is—if such a thing is conceivable—an exercise in dry-eyed nostalgia for the nineteen-fifties, the era of Elvis Presley and radio disc jockeys. Jim Jacobs and Warren Casey, who wrote the book, score, and lyrics, have apparently steeped themselves in a period when any nuisance or personal misfortune, however transitory, was good for a lament. Three of the best and funniest numbers are "It's Raining on Prom Night," "Alone at a Drive-In Movie," and "Beauty School Dropout." The tone of the show is tongue-in-(and-out-of-) cheek, and perhaps it is true that the best way to parody the fifties is simply to imitate them, for the songs here are just fifties songs, and pretty good ones. The book, such as it is, is entirely concerned with the activities of a high school class—lunchroom gossip and lunchroom plotting, a pajama party, and abortive gang rumble, a school dance, a pregnancy scare, and holdout virginity. There are some amusing lines, and everything certainly looks and sounds authentic….

And yet, as I sat watching it, I kept feeling that I should be having a better time…. [The characters] are neither interesting nor especially attractive, and Mr. Jacobs and Mr. Casey certainly haven't bothered to give them anything interesting to do, relying instead, perhaps, on that nostalgia to be generated in the audience. A mistake. Who wants to be bothered remembering the fifties? The thirties and forties, yes, and the sixties, yes indeed, but the nineteen-fifties made one of the dullest decades on record and are better forgotten. (p. 68)

Edith Oliver, in The New Yorker (© 1972 by The New Yorker Magazine, Inc.), February 26, 1972.

Harris Green

["Grease" is the] kind of musical that Broadway has needed for some time….

Somehow, it has managed to combine the two commodities everyone agrees our theater most requires: younger audiences and what I can best describe—not too ponderously, I trust—as "older virtues." That is, "Grease" deserves the adjectives we once awarded shows like "Pal Joey," "Kiss Me Kate," "Guys and Dolls" and "The Pajama Game" but haven't had much call for recently. (p. 1)

For several seasons we haven't had many musicals that deserve to be hailed as: "brash … charming … unsentimental … light-hearted … spunky … high-spirited … unpretentious." Good word, that "unpretentious"! Thanks to "Grease," all are applicable once more. The musical comedy is both musical and comic once more….

Jacobs and Casey view [the fifties] with that rare blend of affection and consternation that Sandy Wilson brought to "The Boy Friend."

They are so unsentimental about the brutishness of Elvis and the inanities of Annette that it wouldn't surprise me to learn they'd dashed the whole show off one weekend—possibly after watching an old beach-party flick on TV—when the pluperfect mindlessness of what they'd once taken seriously struck them with such force that each sprang to his typewriter or guitar, writhing with inspiration. Nowhere in "Grease" is there that mad delight in the insipid past that has permitted nostalgia to rage like a plague on Broadway….

Jacobs and Casey have no other cause...

(The entire section is 639 words.)

Henry Hewes

Dispensing with the conventional charm and nostalgia one might expect, Grease takes a tough midwestern city high school named Rydell and describes its coarseness with unsentimental accuracy. The opening scene is an anniversary to which graduates of the class of '59 return. They sing a typical alma mater, which, of course, is utter hypocrisy. Suddenly the boring decorum is shattered. The alma mater uproariously changes to a mocking cataloging of their real and mostly scatological memories of Rydell. The banquet table disappears, and the graduates re-enact scenes from their last year at school.

This makes Grease different from the Best Foot Forward kind of musical that uses the youthfulness of its performers to enchant us. In Grease we are always aware that the performers are more mature than the teen-agers they are depicting, and therefore they can be harsher and more unflinching in their parody of their former selves.

The plot follows a dozen kids through typical high school incidents, with its main thread being a "romance" between Danny Zuko and Sandy Dumbrowski….

Ultimately, of course, there is a "happy" ending, with Sandy deciding to run with the pack and enjoy the same kind of sexual liaison with Danny that some of the other girls have with their uncommitted boy friends. Does this bring her true love and happiness? Probably not. But she does find her new personality...

(The entire section is 465 words.)

Michael Feingold

Grease does not discourse about our presence in Saigon. Nor does it contain in-depth study of such other 50's developments as the growth of mega-corporations and conglomerates, the suburban building boom that broke the backs of our cities, the separation of labor's political power from the workers by union leaders and organization men. Although set in and around an urban high school, it does not even discuss one of the decade's dominant news stories, the massive expansion of the university system, and the directing of a whole generation of war babies toward the pursuit of college degrees. Grease is an escape, a musical designed to entertain, not to concern itself with serious political and social...

(The entire section is 1075 words.)

Roy Hollingworth

Grease offers a good stench of cheeseburgers, soda, flick-knives and floosies, stocking tops and schools hops, and rrrrrrockanroll. And hey, that can't be bad!

I always approach rock musicals with a vast amount of suspicion….

But let me tell you this maybe is the first valid rock 'n' roll musical. The reason is very simple. It's all about rock 'n' roll. It's authentic, it's brilliantly written, and the cast is just NEAT. Take all that and add hilarious humour and I reckons you've got entertainment.

It's a pretty wet storyline, but that couldn't have been better for something that's supposed to mirror the wild scenes that went on behind teachers' back at High...

(The entire section is 228 words.)