It’s easy to sneer at Grease and dismiss it as a relic of the ’70s like Space Dust and The Bay City Rollers. But while it may recall a time when John Travolta wasn’t shopping for elasticised trousers at Big and Tall, and Olivia Newton-John was famous outside of her own house, you have to remember that there was only one movie to see in 1978.
And no movie encouraged so many re-visits by pre-teen girls. It was quite common for many of them to have seen this movie more than 20 times and know the complete dialogue and dance movements.
This 1950s-set story of the summer love that blossoms at a Southern California high school between leather-jacket-clad Danny (Travolta) and Australian exchange student Sandy (guess who?) has captivated generations of moviegoers; the Rydell High gang, the cars, the chicks, the Brylcreem . . . and fresh from Saturday Night Fever (1977), this was the film that confirmed Travolta’s superstar status.
Travolta’s Danny Zuko is a member of the T-Birds, a juvenile gang of greaser hoods whose other members are Kenickie (Jeff Conaway), Doody (Barry Pearl), Sonny (Michael Tucci) and Putzie (Kelly Ward). Sandy, meanwhile, is ‘mentored’ by the all-female gang, The Pink Ladies, although she is never herself a member.
The Pink Ladies are led by Betty Rizzo (a fabulous performance by Stockard Channing) and include Frenchy (Didi Conn), Jan (Jamie Donnelly) and Marty Maraschino (Dinah Manoff).
By the end of the film, romance blossoms between the two groups with pairings between Rizzo and Kenickie and Frenchy and Sonny respectively.
Not only is Grease the most successful film musical of all time, but the instantly recognisable songs are still heard in college campuses, karaoke bars and cheesy nightclubs more than 20 years on. Grease also dominated the music charts in the US, the UK and Australia. Summer Nights alone spent seven weeks at number one.
And while Baz Luhrmann might like to think otherwise, there hasn’t been a musical to touch it since.
Cha Cha DiGregorio