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Danny Zuko is back in Rydell High School for senior year. He's a bad boy who wears a leather jacket and hangs out with others who do. He tells his friends about the great summer vacation he had at the beach with this girl Sandy.
Sandy has just transferred to Rydell High and is trying to make friends, which happen to include ladies in pink leather jackets(!). She is The Ingenue, and she is also a senior. She tells her side of the story at the same time. Then the other girls realize the fella she was with was Danny Zuko, and they take her to meet him. At that moment, he is more interested in maintaining his image than acting like the sensitive guy Sandy remembered, and she leaves broken-hearted.
They love each other. Can they get past their differences and get together before the end of senior year?
Arguably the 1978 film version is more famous than the musical. In that one, Sandy was renamed from Sandy Dumbrowski to Sandy Olson, and her origin was changed from somewhere else in America to Australia to account for the star cast for the role: Olivia Newton-John. The film also featured John Travolta (in the role that solidified his fame after the 1977 blockbuster Saturday Night Fever) as Danny, along with Jeff Conaway (who, ironically, played Danny in the musical) and Stockard Channing.
The soundtrack for the film - one of the biggest selling of all time - would turn out to be almost as successful as the movie itself, dominating the Billboard charts for much of 1978 (along with Saturday Night Fever), launching a string of Transatlantic hit singles and selling eight million copies in America alone, and twenty-eight million worldwide.
There is a sequel, which has practically no characters in common with the original ('cept for Frenchie who was held back a year), but the plot is almost entirely the same except that now the nice foreign kid is male, with a bad-girl love interest. It's only really worth watching for the So Bad It's Good factor and the "Reproduction" song (and for starring a young Michelle Pfeiffer).
- Accidental Hug: Danny and Kenickie participate in one before the big race, complete with slicking back the hair to regain their cool.
- Adaptation Distillation: The musical contains several songs and subplots cut for the movie, including "Mooning" (sung by Rump (Putzie in the movie) and Jan), "Freddy My Love" (sung by Marty), and "Shaking at the High School Hop" (a full-cast number) and others were put into the background: "Those Magic Changes" (originally sung by Doody) and "It's Raining on Prom Night" (originally sung by Sandy)
- Adaptation Expansion: The film does add some good songs to the repertoire.
- "You're The One That I Want" and the reorchestration of "We Go Together" make up for the musical's somewhat lackluster ending. Both have been added to recent stagings.
- The film's version of "Beauty School Dropout" is arguably better than the musical's version.
- The film also adds a good solo song for Sandy in "Hopelessly Devoted To You". Before this, her big solo number was "It's Raining On Prom Night," which is only heard on a jukebox in the film. (The 1994 revival had Sandy performing an adaptation of the pop hit "Since I Don't Have You.") Allegedly, the adults-only Chicago version of the show performed in 1971 had Sandy performing a raunchy number called "Kiss It."
- Adults Are Useless
- Affectionate Parody: Of late-fifties/early-sixties teen movie musicals.
- All Girls Want Bad Boys: Danny and Kenickie are pretty popular.
- All Guys Want Cheerleaders: Subverted. When Danny is confronted with Sandy in her cheerleader costume in front of his friends, he's embarrassed.
- All Love Is Unrequited: For a while.
- Alpha Bitch: Rizzo, with the Pink Ladies as her Girl Posse, except for Frenchie, who still befriends Sandy. Also a subversion, since Rizzo's not the typical cheerleader but a sexy and straightforward "bad girl".
- Animated Credits Opening
- Auto Erotica:
- About as literal as you can get. The song "Greased Lightning" is about fixing up a car so they can get women.
- The scene before it in the film (not in the musical) shows Kenickie and Rizzo interrupted while trying to have sex in the back of his car.
- Award Bait Song: "Hopelessly Devoted To You". It was nominated for an Academy Award, but didn't win.
- Bad Girl Song: "There Are Worse Things I Could Do" for Rizzo.
- Be a Whore to Get Your Man: Sandy is the Trope Codifier.
- Belligerent Sexual Tension: Rizzo and Kenickie, who double as Beta Couple.
- Big Eater: Jan, who's also Hollywood Pudgy.
- Boy Meets Girl: "Summer heat, boy and girl meet..."
- Break the Haughty: Rizzo gets this with the pregnancy story line. She holds her head high, though.
- Butt Monkey: Eugene.
- The Cast Showoff: The two leads never pass up an opportunity to show the singing & dancing abilities.
- Crowd Song
- Dawson Casting: Most blatantly with Olivia Newton-John and Stockard Channing. By the time the film came out, Channing was 34 (and actually old enough to have been in high school in 1959) and Newton-John was pushing 30.
- Deadpan Snarker: Rizzo.
- Delinquents: The T-Birds.
- The Ditz: Frenchy. And perhaps Patty Simcox.
- Don't You Dare Pity Me!: "The Worst Thing I Could Do" in the stage version, where Rizzo sings it to Sandy before storming off.
- Double Entendre: A surprisingly clever one in "bite the weenie, Riz!" "with relish!"
- Drive-In Theater
- Extracurricular Enthusiast: Patty Simcox, overly-enthusiastic goody-two-shoes cheerleader, nominated for student council, helps set up for the prom, and gossips her way through the whole movie/play.
- The Fifties
- Final Love Duet:
- "You're The One That I Want" in the movie.
- "All Choked Up" in the musical.
- Five-Man Band:
- Foreshadowing: "If it ran any better, it'd be flying."
- Funny Aneurysm Moment: On purpose — "or even the next Vice President Nixon".
- Gainax Ending
- Gay Moment
- Getting Crap Past the Radar: In the song "Greased Lightning", John Travolta's character rubs saran wrap against his crotch. This is supposedly a reference to the use of saran wrap as a condom. The lyrics of the song contain lines like "You know that ain't no shit/We'll be getting lots of tit"; "With new pistons plugs and shocks/I can get off my rocks/You know that I ain't braggin'/She's a real pussy wagon"; and of course "the chicks'll cream!"
- And then there's this;
Danny: Oh, bite the weenie, Riz.
- Groin Attack: Well, maybe not an intentional attack, but Sandy does slam a car door into Danny's hard-on after his abortive attempt at seduction.
- Happily Ever After
- The Ingenue: Sandy.
- Intercourse with You: You Are The One That I Want
- Kick the Dog: In the stage version, Sandy punches the sweet cheerleader in the eye for no reason other than to show how "tough" she is.
- Kiss Kiss Slap: Rizzo and Kenickie.
- Lampshaded Double Entendre: "She was good, you know what I mean..."
- Last-Name Basis: Betty Rizzo is usually called "Rizzo" or "Riz". When she's making out with Kenickie in his car, she asks him to call her by her first name, but has to tell him what it is.
- Magical Realism: The dream sequence in "Grease Lightnin`", The dream sequence in "Beauty School Drop Out", The flying car at the end.
- Morning Routine: The movie starts with cartoons showing everyone getting ready for school.
- The Musical
- My Hair Came Out Green: Actually, bubble-gum pink, when Frenchie flunks tint.
- New Transfer Student: Sandy.
- Non Actor Vehicle: For Olivia Newton-John.
- Nostalgia Ain't Like It Used to Be: A fondly nostalgic portrayal of The Fifties, bordering on Rose Tinted Narrative. The era is depicted as some sort of teenage paradise, where the worst that can happen to you is being compared to Sandra Dee.
- Not Even Bothering with the Accent: Averted in the film, where they made Sandy an Australian exchange student instead of forcing Olivia Newton-John to do a painful American accent.
- Operation: Jealousy:
- Sandy finds herself a convenient jock to date, after Danny rejects her.
- Kenickie and Rizzo also pull this one on each other.
- Rage Against the Reflection: Less rage-y variation, movie only.
- Random Events Plot
- Refrain From Assuming: The song is called "Summer Nights", not "Summer Loving" or "Tell Me More".
- Rhyming with Itself: "Beauty School Dropout" uses job/slob, which is a very acceptable rhyme. But they use it again in the very next line.
- Smoking Is Cool: Its the fifties, what did you expect?
- Spiked Wheels
- Spiritual Successor:
- Tall, Dark and Handsome: Danny Zuko, played by a 6-foot tall, young (not to say as young as he was supposed to be, though) and lean John Travolta.
- The Theme Park Version: Of the 50s.
- Troubled but Cute: The T-birds. Especially Kenickie, who's generally a Jerkass but who doesn't hesitate to take responsibility and try to do what he considers the right thing when he thinks he's gotten his girlfriend Rizzo pregnant.
- World of Ham: The musical and/or the movie basically require being over-the-top.
- Yawn and Reach: Danny does this with Sandy. When he attempts to touch something more than just her shoulder it backfires.
- You Don't Want to Die a Virgin, Do You?: In the prologue to the original film. "It's not ruining it. It's making it better!"