“Summer lovin’, happened so fast…” You may not have seen Grease at the cinema – hey, you may never have seen the film at all – but you almost certainly know the song, and, of course, the singer. Dressed all in black, his hair slicked back, the epitome of 50s cool, it can only ever be… Richard Gere.
Yes, four years before the all-conquering 1978 film propelled John Travolta into the stratosphere, the part of Danny Zuko belonged to Richard Gere.
Grease the film so eclipsed Grease the stage musical that it’s easy to forget that the theatrical production was an enormous success on its own terms. As in, when the Broadway production closed in 1980, it was, at 3,388 shows, the longest run in Broadway history.
But back in 1973, Gere was only 23 years old, and still some way off his breakthrough rôle – 1980’s American Gigolo.
According to Gere: “Grease was one of the first things I did in New York. I started out as an understudy and I was covering five guys and every night, one of the guys didn’t show up or there was a problem, and I was doing all the parts. When it came time to do it in London, they asked if I would come in and lead and play Danny. It was the first time I had been out of the country.”
Before Gere brought Danny to London, the production opened in the rather more provincial British town of Coventry, later transferring to London’s West End.
In England, like New York, it was a universal smash. Almost. Reviewing the production for Coventry’s local paper, critic David Isaacs wrote :“What a waste of talent. Why on earth talented performers are wasting their time with this puerile nonsense it is difficult to assess.”