Thursday, 4 February 2016

Grease is the Word

by Ellen Latham

Flicking through the channels last night, I came across something on ITV that peaked my attention. I should probably say it was something intellectual or educational about history or science. But no. No, instead it was a live musical performance of Grease. Of course without hesitating I clicked on it and began to watch excitedly, thinking that it had been too long since I had last watched it. I would be lying if I said it was anywhere near as good as the original, but let's be honest, if there's no John Travolta, then there's no show. I was especially irritated when they deemed it OK to add extra scenes that were not in the already perfect original, but I might just be biased. What really caught my attention about the whole thing was the fact that it was there, on the tele, still as popular and well-known as it was thirty eight years ago, when it was first released.

So what is it about this musical that makes it so special? How has it managed to straddle generations? To still be producing tours and televised performances so many years later? How has it managed to capture so many hearts over so many year? It would be a hard find to meet somebody who hadn't seen Grease and an even harder to discover a lost soul who hasn't even heard of it.
So what is it? I mean it's obviously in part the desire to go back to the days of young John Travolta and the brilliance of Jeff Conway if not for his acting then definitely for his impeccable hair combing skills and ability to drive a car in a straight line…

Perhaps it was the glamour of the pink ladies, the nonchalant behaviour of all the main characters towards their education and their futures that today are the driving force of students to do well. Perhaps the only hint at the importance of education throughout the entire musical is through Teens Angel’s performance of Beauty School Dropout, and yet even here it's taken with a pinch of salt and a lot of shiny spandex. In many ways Grease shows, although a touch unrealistically, a relaxed way of life full of petty dramas and relationships that completely contrasts with the stress and hard work that students face not just in our generation, but of our parents also, who loved the movie when it came out, just as much as we love it today.

You could also argue that it's the morals and lesson of the story that people could be drawn to. But first you have to figure out what those lessons might actually be. The first would be the total lack of regard you should have towards your education, although it's up for debate whether or not this is a positive message to be sending out to students. The second lesson closely linking to the first would be  that being cool and popular is the only way to succeed at school, in terms of social standing, a prime example of this being Eugene or Paddy Simcox. But maybe there are some more important messages here. Of course there's the classic, almost cheesy concept of teen pregnancy, although considering Grease would have been a trend setter for cheesy rom-coms to follow, Rizzo was one of the first characters to have to deal with this  problem, albeit in an interesting manner, mainly consisting of chain smoking and dancing the tango with strangers, but to each their own.

On a serious note, Grease an important lesson over the generations, and that was the awareness of peer pressure on both girls and boys. Although I'm sure not many people were complaint when Olivia Newton-John appeared in the final scene wearing tight leather and lycra, it's important to consider what actually drove her to change how she dressed and who she was. Was it for a boy and his attention? Was it so she could fit in with her friends? Or was it for herself? All are perfectly plausible. Of course this moment could all feminist and I could go on ranting about how a woman should never have to change who she is for a man, but that clearly wasn't the point of that scene, because out struts Danny Zuko in a jock’s sweater. This actually brings us to the adorable conclusion that they did it for each other, so that they could be together and drive off in a flying car which was totally random and beautiful and weird, but also not the point I'm making. In a long winded and bendy way, I suppose the point I'm making is that throughout the film, peer pressure is used in different situations to produce an outcome, making it an almost driving force of the movie, moving the story from one moment to the next.

Although this probably wasn't the driving force behind the sales at the box office, it definitely played a part in the message that people received from watching the movie. So, is Grease the word? Well, it certainly was for our parents generation and still is for us today. Whether it will be for future generations I have no idea, but I do know this; I'm positive, that unless somebody makes some kind of magical hybrid musical of Grease and Hairspray where John Travolta plays both Danny Zuko and Edna Turnblad, nothing will beat the production that is Grease. (Written from a completely non-biased third party perspective with absolutely no personal opinion on the matter whatsoever; completely objective.)

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