Barnes and Mullins

Barnes and Mullins

How Grease Took Musicals to Giddy Heights

The critics may have hated it, but Grease’s soundtrack was the feel-good moment of 1978 for many cinemagoers. The film remained the highest-grossing movie musical until the equally fun strains of Abba were heard in 2008’s Mamma Mia! Grease was one of the few musicals that transcended the negative reviews. It still possesses incredible musical energy and quality in its production. When Hugh Jackman said that The Greatest Showman was “enough to bring joy to the most joyless critic”, he hit the nail on the head.

When the Grease soundtrack was first played on the airwaves across the Atlantic, there was a feeling of raw excitement. It was originally released a full two months before the movie opened. It was a celebration of high school students – albeit rather grown-up – celebrating the rock and roll revolution.

This is why audiences of thirtysomethings and fortysomethings find the music and movie so memorable. At the time of filming, the cast members were mature and not exactly freshers. Stockard Channing (Rizzo) was 34, while Olivia Newton-John (Sandy) was 30.  There is the sense that the experience transcends the film because it feels like an immersive event lifted by music which is simply timeless.

One of the most compelling moments of the film is the manic energy of the dance-off, including an appearance by rock and roll covers act Sha Na Na, a band that revived New York street music of the 1950s. For purposes of the movie, they take the moniker Johnny Casino and the Gamblers. This name is very apt with the kind of energy and speed of a real-life online casino. In fact, the scene plays out on a fast kaleidoscope of moving parts, very much in keeping with a modern slot game like Rainbow Riches.

The film version’s soundtrack was nothing like the original production back in a nightclub in Chicago in 1971. Many of the original play’s songs were not used in the forefront of the cinematic version, including It’s Raining on Prom Night, Those Magic Changes, and Freddy My Love. The original was a lot raunchier and a bit less sanitised than the final big-screen version.

However, the film’s music is a great companion to what can be seen as a chick flick in many ways. Despite the machismo of the car race and testosterone threatening to burst forth, Grease’s main themes explore the connections between friendships and relationships. What matters is acceptance, even if it is driven by mother nature’s desires. Sandy’s transformation is a wow moment that never fails.

Some of the choices in Grease work perfectly for the music. For instance, Frankie Avalon as the teen angel was an incredible casting choice with good looks and a mellifluous voice.  There Are Worse Things I Could Do is an affecting ballad which peels away the hard exterior of Rizzo. At first glance, Greased Lightnin’ sounds and feels like a song fuelled purely on male bravado,  but under the surface, it dismantles the posturing that is behind the whole ‘look at me’ attitude of the T-Birds.

Grease was the word and still is for those that like a good time story with music to match.


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