How does a musical rom com made in the 1970s about the candy-colored 1950s still resonate in 2020?
There is the familiarity to the story: a tormented high school romance between enigmatic, outsider Danny Zuko (John Travolta) and prim, virtuous Sandy Olsson (Olivia Newton-John) with bad-girl Rizzo (Stockard Channing) and her Pink Ladies, plus Zuko’s own gang the T-Birds, getting in the way. And then there is the music: the feel-good quality ofGrease’s doo wop soundtrack with smash hits songs like “Summer Nights” and “You’re the One That I Want” made, for what remains to these days, one of the best selling albums of all time.
Travolta, hot off of his iconic disco dancing in Saturday Night Fever(1977, dir. John Badham), was ripe for the role of heartthrob greaser Zuko. Newton-John was already a chart-topping singer across the UK, Australia, and the USA, but she took on the role of Sandy inGreaseto assure her a place in both musical and cinematic history.
The New York Times’s review of the film in 1978 described Grease as something that “stands outside the tradition it mimics...and though it deals with teen-age lust quite frankly, its heart is always pure” (Vincent Canby). But the film also was panned by some critics, as "visual junk food" (Gene Shalit, The Today Show), a "klutzburger" (Pauline Kael, The New Yorker), and a movie that "should really be covered on the obituary page" (Rex Reed, The Daily News). Perhaps it is this kind of emotional response that makes audiences loveGrease’skitsch even more: its exuberant energy, both sweet and naughty, playfully mocks the 1950’s teenage saccharine rather than revering it.
BeforeGrease became the highest-grossing movie musical of the 20th century, and even before it was setting records as an off-Broadway stage production, it was a 1950s-inspired musical premiering in a former Chicago trolley barn. It was written by advertising copywriter Jim Jacobs and high school art teacher Warren Casey, who were nostalgic for 50s music and greaser culture.
Greases till ranks in the top five highest-earning movie musicals of all time, grossing nearly $400M against its $6M budget. But that is nothing compared to the 100,000 pieces of bubble gum that were reportedly chewed by the Grease cast over the course of that summer on set!