Paramount’s plan to tell you more, tell you more about the crucial amorous 1950s-set teen backstory to its iconic 1978 musical, Grease, appears to be coming to fruition. The project, a prequel movie titled Summer Lovin’, went into development last year and has just procured a director in Brett Haley.
Summer Lovin’ is officially moving forward with Haley in the director’s chair, reports Deadline. A surging indie talent for whom the film will serve as a potential mainstream breakthrough, Haley will work off a script by Leah McKendrick, a surging talent poised to break out in her own right. They will be joined here by producers in Temple Hill and Picturestart. Interestingly, the report points to studio enthusiasm strong enough for the project to serve as a potential franchise-launcher.
As the title implies, Summer Lovin’ will chronicle Grease’s plot-establishing 1958-set California teen romance between local greaser Danny Zuko and vacationing Australian Sandy Olsson—played by John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John, respectively—which was a life-changing summer fling for both, but ultimately ended once Sandy was set to go back home. However, unbeknownst to Danny, Sandy’s parents opted to stay in America—in the same town—and even enrolled her in his school, Rydell High; an event that leads to an awkward collision course, since their shot-separated duet, “Summer Nights,” has them telling conflicting accounts about the nature of their romance to their respective friends. Indeed, the song in question was a smash hit in its own right in 1978, reaching #5 on the Billboard Hot 100 and even hit #1 on the U.K. charts.
Grease, which debuted as Jim Jacobs and Warren Casey’s stage musical in 1971, would go on to become one of the most celebrated musicals of all-time off the success of the 1978 film directed by Randal Kleiser (who’d go on to direct The Blue Lagoon, Flight of the Navigator, Big Top Pee-Wee and Honey, I Blew Up the Kid), who worked off an adaptation script by Bronte Woodard. It was followed up in 1982 with director Patricia Birch’s Grease 2, which starred Maxwell Caulfield and a pre-stardom Michelle Pfeiffer as a new generation of students at Rydell High two years after the events of the original film. While that sequel ended up a critical failure and financial loss, it didn’t diminish the luster of the original, which has maintained a perpetual fandom, and myriad stage adaptations (notably Fox’s 2016 live broadcast version,) and even led to last October’s news of a Grease spinoff series planned for HBO Max.
Of course, Summer Lovin’ is a potentially career-making gig for director Brett Haley, whose most recent effort was this past February’s romantic drama, All the Bright Places, which starred Elle Fanning and Justice Smith. He’s also fielded films such as Hearts Beat Loud, The Hero and I’ll See You in My Dreams, along with reality television work on Animal Planet’s No Limits and comedy Barmaids. The project’s screenwriter, Leah McKendrick, is an actress-turned-scribe who’s written indie features such as 2019 drama Deviant Love and 2017 horror thriller M.F.A., also bringing genre-pertinent credibility as creator and co-star of 2013 feuding sororities musical series Destroy the Alpha Gammas. She steps in after the studio had initially appointed a more established scribe in John August (Aladdin, Big Fish).
It will certainly be interesting to see how 1970s-bred 1950s nostalgia translates for audiences in the 2020s when Summer Lovin’ ultimately manifests on the big screen. Now, speculation will most certainly center around who will be cast for the roles of Danny and Sandy.