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BWW Blog: Where Grease Falls Flat

While every musical plot has its flaws, for me Grease just falls flat.

BWW Blog: Where Grease Falls Flat

Grease. Every high school theatre troupe and baby boomer's ideal. Everyone's Halloween costume inspiration at some point in their lives. Grease needs no introduction because Grease is the word.

But what it does need is a revisitation. Everyone loves a good excuse to use pomade and wear a leather jacket, but to me Grease isn't what it's cracked up to be. I've never seen it as a "classic" as other people do. Is that because I'm a killjoy? Absolutely. But is it also because Grease is glorified to the point where we forget the plot and just assume that it's a good show? I think so.

While it's a feel good romp, it's not something we should all strive to worship. Grease has flaws, especially when it comes to misusing its strong female characters. And yes, when I say strong, I'm even talking about Sandy. Sandy may be sweet and naive, but she knows her limits. She's smart, she's compassionate, and she always sees the best in people. She's not poorly written, so why did they write her such an anti-climactic ending? There's so much room for her to have an amazing character development, but why isn't there?

Well the short answer is because she's an uptight "square", and by embracing her "bad girl" persona, she's become more worthy of our veneration. But a complete reversal of a character's priorities isn't development, it's just fan service. Sandy's identity is butchered in the hopes that by the end we'll get to see a new, sensual Sandy in tight spandex pants, which actress Olivia Newton-John literally had to be sewn into.

A case for Grease being more "progressive" with its female characters could be made from Rizzo, the unapologetic, strong willed bombshell who wears her sexuality on her sleeve. Her character deals with heavy subject matter like extreme jealousy, female sexuality, and teen pregnancy. She's truly different, and it's no question why she's a deeply loved character. Rizzo speaks her mind, she's sarcastic, and we love her for it.

Though ultimately, in an effort to tame her by the end of the show, she's partnered off with Kenickie, a boy who doesn't match her intellect. Instead of showing us that Rizzo is perfectly valid by herself, an issue she'd been dealing with the whole show, her character development is boiled down to her ability to devolve from independent and outspoken woman to meek and understated future housewife. What's worse is that we, the audience, subconsciously root for this ending, because that's what we know. But why write such strong female characters if you're not prepared for them to be made whole by themselves?

I understand that this show is set in the 1950's, a "different time" full of Betty Crockers and June Cleavers, I understand that the pink ladies weren't going to end the show as congresswomen or astronauts. But when it comes to the ending, the sole character arc of these women is purely their capacity to change themselves in order to find (or keep) a man. Not only is this an obviously sexist conclusion, it's also just boring. The conflict and interesting aspects of Grease involve conflict with the self, and somehow growth and self discovery is just tied off neatly with some leather pants.

On top of that, the endings of the female characters are just out of character. You want me to believe that star student Sandy isn't planning her higher education? Or that Marty wants to end up with some guy who peaked in high school? Or that Rizzo would be happy being so dependent on just Kenickie? Why romanticize these women giving up their personalities for men to like them more, if it doesn't even make for a good conclusion.

If I want to reminisce about milkshakes in diners and letterman sweaters, I'll watch Zombie Prom or Bye Bye Birdie. This isn't to say that Grease isn't iconic, catchy, or great production wise, it's just to say that I don't feel Grease has enough merit to stand alongside shows like The Sound of Music, West Side Story, or Cabaret, and be considered a "classic" on par with them. Grease is quirky, meant for those who adore the camp and nostalgia of it, but in the mainstream, I don't believe it deserves to be represented as "one of the classics."

While every musical plot has its flaws, for me Grease just falls flat. I can't claim that Grease could've been an empowering feminist show (because again, the 50's), but to make the most compelling characters in the show be female, and them give them such trivial endings is just... off. A show can still be iconic while drawing cohesive conclusions.

But of course, there's always the Hand Jive.

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