We went to a sing-a-long of Grease over the weekend. It was fun. Most people did actually sing along. The company that did the karaoke style subtitles did a brilliant job with silly animations to go along with the lyrics. It was interesting to see which songs everyone knows and/or likes (Sandra Dee, Summer Nights, We Go Together reprise), songs which everyone thinks they know but don’t, not really (Greased Lightning, Hand Jive, Alone at the Drive In Movie), and songs that people were unsure and/or indifferent about (Beauty School Dropout, We Go Together, There Are Worse Things I Could Do).
Though I’ve half-heartedly watched Grease on TV a couple of times since 1978, I haven’t really paid any serious attention to it since I saw it back in the dark ages when “Panavision” still sounded like an exciting new improvement. over “Technicolor”. (It wasn’t, but Panaflex, one of the first hand held professional film cameras, made its debut around this time. Look out, Cloverfield monster!) This time, despite all the singing, I noticed that the story is darker, snarkier, and more meaningful than it appears at first glance. Reading a little about the history of the musical before it got sanitized for Broadway and film, I realize this is the ghost of something larger and not an accident of the 70s.
Grease the movie musical, even in its toned down and curated film version, is a send up of all that 1950s nostalgia that was so popular during the late 60s and through the 70s and early 80s. Raunchy, cigarette smoking Rydell High is in an alternate dimension compared to the squeaky clean Leave It To Beaver, or the “Happy Days” 50s as the Best Time Ever propaganda that was being pumped out at the time. There is, however, an even more carefully curated version of the musical, a “G” rated version, for High School drama departments. No “Worse Things I Could Do” in that version! However you’d like your 50s propaganda, sweet as cotton candy, slightly salty, or as dirty as a sailor’s mouth, there’s a “Grease” for you. Be sure to sing along, but not to that tongue-twister of a title track by Barry Gibb.