Grease is the Word

By Siiri Gilness


One of the biggest movie musicals of the 20th century is turning 40 years old this year.  “Grease,” which hit theaters in June of 1978, became so popular after its release that many fans weren’t even aware that it was actually based on a stage musical by the same name.  Although the movie version often overshadows the original stage play, the origin of “Grease” has become slightly more well-known over time, thanks in part to Broadway revivals in 1994 and 2007.  Here are a few other interesting facts about the movie adaption:


Before John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John were cast in the lead roles of Danny and Sandy, several other actors were considered for the parts, including Henry Winkler, Marie Osmond, and Lucie Arnaz.


All of the actors cast as high school students were older than their characters.  Dinah Manoff (Marty), at 19, was the closest in age to an actual high school student.  Stockard Channing (Rizzo) was the oldest, at 33.


The song “Look at Me, I’m Sandra Dee,” performed by Rizzo in the slumber party scene, includes a lyrical reference to Elvis Presley.  In an odd coincidence, the scene was filmed on August 16, 1977, the day that Elvis died.


Elvis Presley was a potential casting choice for the role of Teen Angel.  The part went to Frankie Avalon instead.


The song “Hopelessly Devoted to You” was not originally in the movie.  In fact, it hadn’t even been written until producers decided during filming that Olivia Newton-John should have her own ballad.  Newton-John was brought back in to record the song and film its accompanying scene after filming on the rest of the movie had already wrapped.


In the original stage musical, the song “Greased Lightnin’” is performed by Danny’s sidekick, Kenickie.  John Travolta wanted to sing the song himself, so the scene was shifted from Kenickie to Danny in the movie.


The school dance scene took more than a week to film in an L.A. high school gymnasium.  With temperatures topping 100 degrees and no air conditioning, several of the background dancers suffered heatstroke.


“Grease” remained the highest grossing movie musical of all time for 30 years after its release, until it was eventually surpassed by the movie adaption of “Mamma Mia!” in 2008.

Art Matters is a weekly column sponsored by Leach Theatre, a division of Student Affairs, on the campus of Missouri S&T, and produced by Emily Brickler, Managing Director of the theatre and ten-year veteran teacher with a Masters of Art in Teaching from Webster University.

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