As soon as the flattering 90th Birthday of the prestigious American Academy award was celebrated and all the fuss surrounding it started to slowly cool down, we’re nearing another film jubilee which will, I believe, put a smile on many people’s faces. We are referring to the Rendal Kleiser’s musical “Grease”, which was filmed 40 years ago! Regardless of whether you or your parents – that might have seen it in its “original” moment and discovered the movie to you – were even born at 1978., it is hard to imagine anyone bypassing this music-movie classic. However, before it was to appear on the big screen, the musical Grease was performed on several theatre stages – initially in 1971. in Kingston Mines Theatre in Chicago, and the following year on Broadway’s Eden Theatre. An interesting fact is that two years later, in the first production of London’s West End, Richard Gere would appear in the man’s leading role, while Sandy was interpreted by Elaine Page – the legend of the Britain’s music theatre.
Still, let us remind ourselves of the “Grease” heroes – Denny and Sandy, two teenagers who met and fell in love during the summer break and soon after – followed by the series of unforeseen circumstances – meet again in a totally new high school surrounding. The plot of this harmless love story set in 1958 posed as a benign counterweight to still turbulent events of the ‘70s. That was, most probably, one of the things that contributed to the world success that Grease – far from having any expectations – achieved. That goes for the year of the release as well as for the next 40 years of showing on the screen. Today, after so many years of Grease’s presence and us singing along to hits like You’re the one that I want and Summer nights, we know that the key to success is in the music. After all, it’s to an extent logical that music is the element that makes a musical “everlasting”, when there is a whole line of the non-music movies – dramas, adventures, even action blockbusters – where original music comes to mind long before the actual scenes. Just think of Coppola’s “Godfather”, movies like “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly”, “Chariots of Fire”, “The Piano” or “Indiana Jones” and “Star Wars” series…
And so, we come back to songs that we all know, and we discover that besides the existing music from the theatre show, as many as four of them were composed last minute specifically for the movie screen. And those are the very songs without which, it seems, the “Grease” wouldn’t be what it is today. The numbers in question are Grease performed by Frankie Valli, the solo act Sandy written for Travolta and in the end the key numbers Hopelessly Devoted to You and the duet You’re the One That I Want. The ballad Hopelessly Devoted to You brought an Oscar nomination to Olivia Newton John and the mentioned duet was on the top of almost every music chart in the world for weeks! According to a BBC’s research, You’re the One That I Want was the bestselling movie song in Great Britain.
It is succinct to say that this movie brought world fame to the leading protagonists – John Travolta and Olivia Newton John. Although both of them were already successful and famous – Travolta starred in Saturday Night Fever the year before, while Newton John had a prominent singing career. Despite breaking all the rating records and its commercial success, critiques were very harsh describing Grease as “visual junk food”, and Kleiser as the director who “doesn’t seem to know what he is talking about”. And yet again today, among numerous lists of best and most loved musicals, it’s hard to find one that doesn’t have Grease in its top places, leaving behind the classics of the genre like “West Side Story”, “The Sound of Music”, “Cabaret”, “Wizard from Oz” or the somewhat newer releases like “Moulin Rouge” and “La La Land”.
After all, before you decide which among them is your true favorite, just stop and think which one out of these soundtracks would make your day, at first place. Our choice is certainly “Grease” and the memories of the beautiful era of the ’50s, summer breaks, teenage infatuation and “serious” problems. All those things slowly started to change after that important prom night that concluded the time of carelessness. The good thing though, is that 10, 20, 30 or 40 years later, we can still dance on our anniversaries with the same thrill to the same good rock’n’roll classics.