Starring John Travolta, Olivia Newton John, Jeff Conaway and Stockard Channing. Directed by Randal Kleiser. 110 minutes. PG
Back in June of 1978, a little movie called Grease hit theatres. The high school musical, which centered around a ’50s love story featuring a blonde, bookish exchange student named Sandy Olsson and a jet black-haired greaser named Danny Zuko, had done fairly well as a Broadway show, and Hollywood decided they wanted a piece of the action. In order to bring it to the big screen, they enlisted the help of Saturday Night Fever heartthrob John Travolta, Australian pop princess, Olivia Newton-John, and a brand-new Bee-Gees-penned title track. The combination was nothing short of electrifying (some may even say chill-multiplying), winning over critics and crazed teenage fangirls alike and inspiring what I think is an awesome sequel starring Travolta’s future Hairspray co-star, Michelle Pfeiffer. (I’m not joking.)
Thanks to Zac Efron and the kids from Glee, adolescent operas are en vogue again. And naturally, Hollywood is itching to cash in on the craze again. So they’ve decided to re-release Sandy and Danny’s classic sing-song senior year saga once more. But this time, it’s not just digitally remastered or whatever. It’s completely interactive.
The Grease Sing-A-Long is exactly what you think it is: a shamelessly fan-friendly audience participation version of the musical we all know off-by-heart. Wait, what makes this different than all the other random Sunday afternoon viewings you belt your brains out to, you ask? Well, first of all, it’s in public, so you’re obliged to wear something other than your high school gym shirt (many people opt for poodle skirts and pleather jackets). Second, the words are provided for you (not that most Pink Ladies and T-Birds need em’). And these light-up lyrics aren’t the plain-old white-and-yellow subtitles kind either. They’re straight out of an early 90s edition of Tiger Beat.
The lyrical letters are all bubbly and doodle-like, done up in the same bubblegum pinks and electric blues of the movie’s awesome cartoon credits. And they aren’t alone. Each song has its own set of funky, over-the-top illustrations to accompany the words. Many of them are meant to mask the more suggestive sections (i.e. a cow with large udders and a black cat replace “lotsa tit” and “pussy [wagon]” in “Greased Lightning”), but most of the time, they highlight the silliness of the scene, making it seem even more fun and hopelessly campy than it already is.
As any seasoned Grease-rmight expect, there’s plenty of hot pink hearts and lightning bolts to go around the more straight-forward sing-songs, but there’s also some misguided popsicles (“Sandy”), horny hot dogs (also, “Sandy”) and randomly appearing rings (“Won’t go to bed, til I’m legally wed! I can’t I’m Sandra Dee!”) littered amongst the lyrics. And as Mr. Zuko might say, that’s only the beginning!
When Danny wonders what Sandy’s doin’ now (“Summer Lovin'”), large question-mark thought bubbles pop up beside his bouffant. Then after he sings that he took her bowling in the arcade, a bowling ball magically appears in his hand and flies into Sandy’s faux lemonade stroll. And just wait until you see what they’ve done with “There Are Worse Things I Could Do.” Let’s just say the illustrations are gossip girls in disguise.
Although there are plenty of in-jokes for those who don’t really need to look at the lyrics, the Grease Sing-A-Long is also very first-timer friendly. There’s a cartoon mime who teaches the hand jive for those who weren’t born with the godly ability. And if you don’t know the “Greased Lighning” arm dance, you will by the second chorus. There’s no on-screen dance prompts, but you won’t need them if you are sitting high enough. My audience was hopelessly devoted to mimicking Danny, Kenickie and co. to a T-Bird. If you’re perceptive, you’ll have yourself a blast too.
The real reason the Grease Sing-A-Long works so well is that, after 22 years, it’s still got that big-screen groove and that feeling. The cinematography is more magical than ever – almost as though the screen has gotten a little, well, greasy. Sandy seems to have developed a halo and Rizzo suddenly has a false alarm preggers glow. It’s very RuPaul’s Drag Race. And the acting, which has always been perfectly overdone (see: Danny’s “Don’t make me laugh!” moment and Sandy’s “Fake and a phony!” spiel)., works even better when mega-magnified.
Whether than a you’re fist pumping on your futon for the 150th time or in a stair-hopping with your best friend down the aisle of an over-air-conditioned theatre for the first (this actually happened to the people next to me), Grease will always be the word. At least that’s what I’ve heard. A-
*Unfortunately, the Grease Sing-A-Long has wrapped up it’s highly limited engagement in Toronto (there were only four shows at the Scotiabank, last Friday and Saturday night). But I’m sure it will be back. Because nothing goes together like a ram-a-lama-lama-da-ding-a-da-ding-a-dong like summer movie lovers, Travolta and musical interludes.*