Grease Is the Word: The Most Successful Musical Of All Time

Grease has been the word for over 40 years and is a beloved production with many fans spanning different generations. It has been a musical play, a musical film, and even performed live. It holds various accolades and even a slew of rewards. Grease can be watched repeatedly, and despite some of the teenage drama, is a family-friendly movie.

Grease is the Word

Grease originated as a play in 1971. It opened to a wide popularity, so much so that it was decided to be created into a film. The musical production was produced by Paramount Pictures and directed by Randall Kleiser in 1978. It became a classic film. The film starred John Travolta, fresh off of his success of Saturday Night Fever, and Olivia Newton John — an Australian singer.

It’s a Word You Have Heard

Grease takes place in the 1950s at Rydell High, a generic “all-American” place. The story finds two star-crossed lovers, who happen to be very different in their school identities, with two very different groups of friends. Typical teenage angst and drama ensues 1950s style, with lots of singing, dancing, and poodle skirts.

It’s Got Groove, It’s Got Meaning

Grease is the still the highest-grossing musical in the United States as of 2016. The soundtrack for the film was the second highest grossing soundtrack for the year (it came out in 1978). The soundtrack for Grease still remains the best-selling in music history.

We Started Believing That We Can Be Our Real Selves

Sandy may have been honest about who she was, but Danny had a “too cool for school” tough-guy attitude. But then he got jealous and tried to be a jock to impress Sandy with his athletic ability… though rather unsuccessfully. He can’t play any contact sport, or even baseball, because of his anger management issues, so the coach suggests track.

She Is Woman, Hear Her Roar

Olivia Newton John was “discovered” by Grease producer Allan Car at a party at singer Helen Reddy’s house. She was offered the role of Sandy. Olivia was a noted country singer in the early 70s but her career took off after Grease.

Star Struck

John Travolta had to try to hide the fact that he was star struck by Olivia when they first met. It wasn’t just her modest success that impressed Travolta. In one interview on the “Merv Griffin Show”, he revealed that it was also the fact that she had a pool at her house that really dazzled him!

This Is a Life of Illusion, Age is Only a Number

Grease is set at a fictional high school, and producers casting adults to play “teenagers.” Olivia Newton John was 29 when she was cast as Sandy.  Travolta was 24, Channing was 34, and this guy (the almost-uncredited Leo, of the Scorpions) was 31. Putzie was closest to being a teen at 20.

Born to Hand Jive

Every great musical has to have some dance scenes. And of course the producers weren’t going to miss out on Travolta strutting his stuff.  Sandy and Danny do pretty well at the big dance, but she is upstaged by competition driven Cha Cha DiGregorio, the best dancer at St. Bernadette’s (with the worst reputation).

No Graduation Day for You, You Flunked Shampoo

Frenchy, played by actress Didi Conn, is famous for her wild hair. Here she is being encouraged and reprimanded by heartthrob Frankie Avalon as the Teen Angel in the song “Beauty School Drop Out.” Today, Frenchy’s signature haircolor would probably have a cult following on a Pinterest board, and she would likely be an Instagram star.

Ayy, Grease Wasn’t How He Was Feeling

Henry Winkler was originally cast to play Danny. But for fear of being forever typecast as a 50s cool guy heart throb (there could be worse things), he declined the role. It was most likely a wise decision as there are a limited amount of those roles.

Connections Make for Happy Days

Ellen Travolta (John’s sister), best known for her role as Louise Delvecchio (Fonzie’s Aunt) played the waitress at the diner the kids hang out. She knows Danny and Sandy, which is her big line. Plus a few oohs and aahs.

Summer Nights, Tell Us More

Is there anything better than all the ladies singing about those summer nights? The song “Summer Nights” was a huge hit in both the United States and the United Kingdom, hitting the top 10 on Billboard charts for many weeks. It has been parodied on “SNL,” rewritten into commercials, and covered on other programs such as “Glee.”

Grease is a Time is a Place is the Motion

This scene was filmed while a traveling carnival was in town. In the film, it is the school’s last day where they had fun carnivals. Gee whiz, the 50s were grand! The carnival left town and sets wound up having to be built for some of the shots.

Grease is the Way You Are Feeling

The “Grease” theme song for the movie was later incorporated into future play productions. It was written by Barry Gibb and performed originally by Frankie Valli. Gibb is heard singing background vocals during this title track hit. The actual term ‘Grease,’ is never used in the film.

Grease is a Baby of Broadway

“Grease,” which began as a play, is often performed at high schools now all over the country. It is a popular choice for schools to put on. “Grease” typically packs the house and is an easy money maker. The play version is slightly different than the film.

History and Grease

“Grease” has been performed and enjoyed by fans at the Walnut Street Theater in Philadelphia. The theater is the oldest English-speaking theater in the world, and was the oldest in the United States — founded way back in 1809.

Broadway Touring and Revivals

“Grease” was revived in 1994-1998 in NYC and again in 2011. The Broadway touring company took the show out to the Auditorium Theater in Chicago. Sandy was played by Emily Padgett, who had been on the Broadway scene for four years and previously was an understudy for Sandy.

Go Greased Lightening You’re Burning up the Quarter Mile

“Grease” was the longest running play until chorus line with over 3,388 performances when it closed in 1980. It has been performed countless times by high schools, community theaters and regional theaters. It is one of a few shows that has been revived a few times. (twice in New York City 1994 and 2007).

You’re Supreme, the Chicks will be Really Happy

It’s “Greased Lightning,” the song with the raciest lyrics. A beloved scene in both the film and play is where the T-birds are getting Danny’s car ready for the big race. They were racing for pinks, after all. (you know pink slips — ownership papers.)

So Good, They Made a Second One

Grease 2 is the sequel. It continues at Rydell High School with some of the former characters like Frenchy, who shouldn’t have dropped out at beauty school apparently. There are also new characters connected to former characters, such as Sandy’s cousin pictured here. There still are T-Birds and Pink Ladies at Rydell High.

She is a Cool Rider

People liked Michelle Pfeiffer’s sullenness as opposed to the overly sunny nature of Olivia Newton John’s personality in “Grease.” Pfeiffer was fairly new to the acting scene and had only completed a few films before landing this big role. Playing Stephanie the leader of the Pink Ladies in Grease 2 did not slow down her career.

Let’s Bowl Let’s Bowl, Let’s Rock and Roll

Grease 2 was also a musical and would have more of a cult following than the success of its predecessor. The story continues about two years after the time frame of the original, making it in 1961. Grease 2 was released in 1982.

Grease 2 is the Pits

It’s a bit shocking perhaps that it was described as “the pits” by Jim Jacobs but many fans of the original still enjoy Grease 2. It was choreographed by the same person (Patricia Birch) as the original. The dance sequences take place a few times once at this bowling alley. There is also a big talent show near the end of the movie.

Grease 2, Now with More Grease

It’s probably good this sequel didn’t proceed as originally planned with John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John reprising their roles, but now as the proud owners of a gas station. Sure, it really could have been some greased lighting, but it probably wouldn’t have been very interesting. Grease 2 was also released in other languages.

Homages in Other Mmedia

The “Simpsons” did it, like they often do, and had their own little homage to “Grease 2.” The legendary musical was being played at Springfield’s summer stock theater. At the end of the show Bart runs up on stage and yells, “Sit on it Springfield” just like the Fonz.

It’s the Great Homage

“The Middle’s” Halloween episode in 2014 titled “Halloween V,” has Sue and her date, dressed up as Half Sandy and Half Danny — which was a pretty clever costume.  The two are attempting to hold a fundraiser to raise money and are playing “It’s the Great Pumpkin Charlie Brown” in a pumpkin patch.

Glee Does Grease

“Glee,” which regularly preforms pop music on its hour-long program, did their own homage to Grease. This episode was broadcast as the sixth episode of Season 4. It is titled “Grease” and is a “musical episode,” which means it had even more singing than usual.

Twist of Fate

In a not so strange twist of fate, Travolta and Newton-John reteamed up for the film Two of a Kind in 1983. He was an unsuccessful inventor, and she was a bank teller he unsuccessfully tried to rob. It wasn’t very lucrative as a film.  Musically it did have three singles however.

Xanadu, Now That I am Here

Oliva Newton John in 1980 starred in Xanadu, a real trip of a musical film. Perhaps more of a cult favorite. Xanadu also included Gene Kelly with tap dancing and some interesting animation sequences was a complete flop. It actually inspired the creation of the Golden Raspberry awards for the World’s Worst Films.

Then Came Grease LIVE

“Grease” was performed live on television in January of 2016, to mixed reviews. It was adapted from the 1971 play by Marc Platt and directed by Thomas Kail. The show was broadcast on the FOX network. The show utilized songs from both the play and the movie, and threw in a few new numbers.

Grease Live Used Two Stages

Production used the backlot, a soundstage and over 44 cameras. Some of the PG-13 language was cleaned up to be more family-friendly. The weather was a factor for this partially outdoor live event. Wind and rain were predicted to come in, which gave way to some set changes. Ultimately the production was spared.

The Mental Issues in Grease

The Pink Ladies are suffering from their own self esteem issues. Sandy is just too much of a reminder of what big sluts they may be. Or perhaps they are just very shallow. Either way, Rizzo is especially threatened by Sandy, where Frenchy seemed the most welcoming. Jan was happy as long as there was food to eat.

You’re The One That I Want

Sandy gets her makeover as a “greaser” and thus gives in to becoming who she thinks Danny really wants. Danny also earned his letter man sweater and was walking around in that at the end of the film. However he ditched it pretty quick once he saw her like this. Maybe this method isn’t the best advice for people.


“Grease” won several People’s Choice awards in 1979. These included Favorite Musical Motion picture, Favorite overall motion picture. Both main actresses were also acknowledged, Olivia Newton John won Best Actress, and Best Supporting Actress was won by Stockard Channing for her portrayal of Rizzo.

Winning and Losing to be in Grease

The show hired some extras to fill the dance scenes and this one at the carnival. But others got to be in Grease from winning a nationwide contest. Hopefully they were not among those who were taking out due to heat-related illness.

Albums and Merchandise

This iconic double album opens up like a yearbook and is full of pictures from the film. Most fans owned this and listened to it repeatedly.  Many tracks were provided by the Bee Gees.

Possible Curse of Grease?

During the song “Look at Me I am Sandra Dee,” the words were changed for the film from Sal Mineo (who had been murdered in 1976) to reference Elvis Presley and to “keep that pelvis far from me,” also died the day the scene was filmed. He also turned down the role of the teen angel.

Grease 3

A third movie was originally planned but after the disappointing results of Grease 2 the idea was scrapped. However, in 2008 Paramount toyed with the idea of coming up with third film. If it ever comes to pass it will go directly to DVD.

And They all Flew off to Heaven

The most original and disturbing interpretation of Grease (yes, some people thought it had to be interpreted) was that Sandy actually died and the carnival scene was just her hallucination. She flies off to heaven in the car at the end of the film.

Where you can see Grease now.

You can see Grease 1 or 2 on Amazon video, from DVD or even as a duel set.  The soundtracks for both are still available for purchase either as a digital download or CD. Box office sales, and merchandise have brought in well over 180 million dollars. The original budget was estimated to be about six million!