Friday, April 20, 2018

Born Today In 1935, 'Grease' Composer Warren Casey

Warren (Peter) Casey was born today, April 20, in 1935. He was a theatre composer, lyricist, writer, and actor. He is best remembered for being the writer and composer, with Jim Jacobs, of the stage musical Grease.

Casey was born in Yonkers, New York and received his Fine Arts Degree from the Syracuse University School of Visual and Performing Arts in 1957.

In the mid-1960s, Casey met Jim Jacobs while acting with the Chicago Stage Guild, and the two began collaborating on a play with music about high-school life during the golden age of rock 'n' roll in the 1950s. Entitled Grease, it premiered in 1971 at the Kingston Mines Theater, one of the pioneering companies of Chicago's off-Loop theater movement, in the Lincoln Park section of Chicago. 

Producers Ken Waissman and Maxine Fox saw the show and suggested to the playwrights that it might work better as a musical, and told them if the creative partners were willing to rework it and they liked the end result, they would produce it off-Broadway. Casey quit his day job as a department store lingerie buyer and the team headed to New York City to collaborate on what would become the musical Grease, which opened at the Eden Theatre in downtown Manhattan, moved to Broadway, and earned him a Tony Award nomination for Best Book of a Musical. The show went on to become a West End hit, a hugely successful film (for which he and Jacobs wrote additional songs), and a staple of regional theatre, summer stock, community theatre, and high school drama groups.

Casey's acting credits include the original production of David Mamet's Sexual Perversity in Chicago in 1974 at the Organic Theater Company. Under Stuart Gordon's direction, Casey created the role of foul-mouthed self-styled makeout artist Bernie Litko, delivering a comically outrageous performance tinged with pathos. In the same year he helped start Victory Gardens Theater in Chicago. In 1976, he wrote Mudgett. He wrote (with Jim Jacobs) Island of Lost Coeds, a two-act musical, produced at Columbia College Chicago under the direction of Sheldon Patinkin. He also contributed incidental music to Twelfth Night in 1976 and new lyrics to June Moon in 1977. In addition, Casey worked in the musical Cats.

Casey died of AIDS-related complications in Chicago at the age of 53 on November 8, 1988. According to his obituary in The New York Times
"His companion, Burt Cohen, said that Mr. Casey had been ill since February but had continued to compose music." At the time of his death he was writing a musical with the Brazilian performer Valucha deCastro.

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