Tag Archive | Musical

Grease!

But, oh, those summer nights…

June 16, 2020

On June 16, 1978, this iconic American film burst onto the scene and soon held the record – for the next 15 years – as the highest grossing film of all time. It hearkened back to a more youthful time of the 1950’s but with a 1970’s twist: innocence was but an illusion and that inside every sweet girl was a naughty one wanting to break out. That movie was Grease which starred John Travolta as Danny Zuko, king of the greasers, and Olivia Newton-John as the naïve Sandy.

The movie was based on the 1971 Broadway musical of the same name and, as such, had a fantasy sort of feel to many of its scenes, especially the musical numbers Grease Lightning, Beauty School Dropout, and We Go Together. The thin plot line is held up by incredible music and the star performance of Travolta.

Review of the film from that time ranged from those who loved it to others who were not as impressed. From the Infallible Wikipedia:

“Gene Siskel gave the film three stars out of four, calling it ‘exciting only when John Travolta is on the screen’ but still recommending it to viewers, adding, ‘Four of its musical numbers are genuine showstoppers that should bring applause.’ Variety praised the ‘zesty choreography and very excellent new plus revived music’, and thought Travolta and Newton-John ‘play together quite well.’ Charles Champlin of the Los Angeles Times was negative, writing, ‘I didn’t see ‘Grease’ onstage, but on the testimony of this strident, cluttered, uninvolving and unattractive movie, it is the ’50s—maybe the last innocent decade allowed to us—played back through a grotesquely distorting ’70s consciousness.’ Gary Arnold of The Washington Post also panned the film, writing, ‘Despite the obvious attempts to recall bits from Stanley Donen musicals or Elvis Presley musicals or Frankie-and-Annette musicals, the spirit is closer to the New Tastelessness exemplified by Ken Russell, minus Russell’s slick visual style … I’ve never seen an uglier large-scale musical.’ David Ansen of Newsweek wrote, ‘Too often, ‘Grease’ is simply mediocre, full of broad high-school humor, flat dramatic scenes and lethargic pacing. Fortunately, there’s nothing flat about John Travolta … Travolta can’t dominate this movie as he did ‘Fever,’ but when he’s on screen you can’t watch anyone else.’”

Danny and Sandy drive in sceneEven now, 42 years after its release, Grease enjoys a true fan following. It’s been released in various home video formats over the years, the most recent in 2018 on Blu-Ray DVD for its 40th anniversary.

I’ve seen the movie a number of times but did not see it during its original release. I’m not quite sure what, exactly, I was doing in the summer of 1978 except that it was the year I turned 21 and, really, going to see a musical based on high school students in the 1950’s was not all that cool. Or so I thought. When I did finally see it I was sad I’d missed out that summer.

In thinking about the plot from a writer’s perspective, however, I’ve always had a problem with the final scene of the movie. Sandy’s character – as I wrote above – was of a naïve and innocent teenager. When she gets involved with the Pink Ladies – a group of young women of questionable characters – it doesn’t ring true. Where were Sandy’s parents to put the brakes on her going to a slumber party with these girls? And one look at Danny and her parents – based on her persona – would have been pulling her out of Rydell High.

Despite these obvious disconnects with real life, in the final scene of the end of the year school carnival, we see Danny has now toned down his greaser persona to try and prove to Sandy that he’s the guy for her. Throughout the movie, Danny’s character is portrayed as complex and we suspect that he became a greaser tough guy simply for social status and not because that’s who he truly is.

When Sandy emerges in the final scene, however, she’s suddenly become this black leather clad sexy siren that smokes and is aggressive and suggestive. There is nothing in her character development previously introduced which portends that she is capable of such a transformation.

In the world of a story-teller, this is a big no-no as the reader – or in this case the viewer – feels like they’ve been misled. These inconsistencies are often referred to as ‘plot holes’ and are similar to driving over a pothole on a road in that it can jar you out of the story. Such is the case for this – and several other – scenes in Grease.

With this musical, then, there really is only one thing to do. Ignore the plot and character problems and just enjoy the multitude of toe-tapping, memorable tunes. Think of Grease like a 1950’s root beer float: a fizzy mix of soda and ice cream, but the top two inches are all empty – but tasty – foam; a perfect treat for a summer’s night when you want to immerse yourself in something fun and frivolous.

A link or two:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Grease_(film)

https://screencraft.org/2018/03/09/do-you-know-the-five-different-types-of-plot-holes/

 

Facebook Quiz answers: 1. Animal House 2. Heaven Can Wait 3. Grease 4. Jaws 2 5. Revenge of the Pink Panther

Oklahoma!

The Beginning Of An Era

March 31, 1943

For those of us who love musical theater, there is no greater duo than Richard Rogers and Oscar Hammerstein. But, prior to March 31, 1943, the pair had never collaborated. It was on that date when their first co-written musical hit Broadway.

okmusicalOklahoma! was a smashing success as both a stage production and also as a 1955 movie. From the Infallible Wikipedia:

“The original Broadway production opened on March 31, 1943. It was a box-office smash and ran for an unprecedented 2,212 performances, later enjoying award-winning revivals, national tours, foreign productions and an Oscar-winning 1955 film adaptation. It has long been a popular choice for school and community productions. Rodgers and Hammerstein won a special Pulitzer Prize for Oklahoma! in 1944.

This musical, building on the innovations of the earlier Show Boat, epitomized the development of the ‘book musical’, a musical play where the songs and dances are fully integrated into a well-made story with serious dramatic goals that are able to evoke genuine emotions other than laughter. In addition, Oklahoma! features musical themes, or motifs, that recur throughout the work to connect the music and story. A fifteen-minute ‘dream ballet’ reflects Laurey’s (the heroine) struggle with her feelings about two men, Curly and Jud.”

Richard-Rodgers-Oscar-Hammerstein_thumb

Richard Rogers (left) set Oscar Hammerstein’s (right) lyrics to music in one of the greatest collaborations of all time.

A string of successful musicals followed followed for Rogers and Hammerstein including their most well known: Carousel, State Fair, South Pacific, The King and I, Cinderella, Flower Drum Song, and The Sound of Music.

The death of lyricist Hammerstein in 1960 ended the partnership.

By the time I was a teenager the American Musical, in the form perfected by Rogers and Hammerstein, had passed its apex. But that did not stop me from loving musicals. Occasionally, one would be shown on television so that by the time I was an adult, I had seen a great many of them.

It was, however, the VCR and the DVD which made it possible to explore this genre in depth and contributd to somewhat of a revival.

When my kids were somewhere around ages 11 and 8, we set up a ‘home theater’ complete with a 8 foot by 8 foot screen, a projector which could connect to a DVD player, and a sound system. I would request movies through the King County Library. It was always a mystery as to which musical we would watch because we never knew when one might become available. Most every weekend for a couple of years we experienced all of the old musicals.

My daughter and I, especially, became de facto critics, evaluating each musical for its songs and story line.

It was the night we were watching the film version of the musical Carousel when I knew that she had truly become a qualified critic. Certainly You Never Walk Alone is an incredible piece, but on the other end of the spectrum is a ridiculous song titled, This Was A Real Nice Clambake. Yet we endured and watched the entire musical. When the lights came on my daughter turned to me and said, “Worst. Musical. Ever.”

For me personally, it’s hard to choose a favorite musical. Of the classics, I love The Music Man, The Sound of Music, and Fiddler on the Roof especially. On the other end of the spectrum I agree with my daughter, Carousel is without question the Worst. Musical. Ever.

I polled the family yesterday morning about which musical is their favorite and which is least liked. Here are the answers:

Hubby: Phantom of the Opera is his favorite but he couldn’t identify a least liked.

Son: Ditto. Phantom of the Opera followed closely by A Chorus Line and no least favorite. He did say he connects with more angst-y music.

Daughter: Wicked is her favorite (she has seen it on stage twice as it has yet to be made into a movie). It was her answer to the second part which surprised me. I expected Carousel as her answer. But it was not her only answer. Another musical has joined it as least favorite. It’s the musical which ushered in the era of great musicals: Oklahoma!

A couple of links:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Oklahoma!

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rodgers_and_Hammerstein

https://youtu.be/BUX5B6W_Azs ( the infamous Clambake song)