Unlike Trystan, I saw the musical film Grease (1978) way back in the day and have loved it ever since. I wanted to write a rebuttal to her snark, but honestly all I could say is “nostalgia” and “catchy songs.” True story: I put on a production of Grease in my living room around age 10 with friends, and I played the dual role of Rizzo and Cha Cha. I always wanted to be a bad girl! Anyway, so when the TV series/prequel Grease: Rise of the Pink Ladies (2023) came around on Paramount+, I happily took one for the team, only to end up saying “meh.”
The story takes place in 1954 (four years before Grease is set) and tells the story of four girls who create the “Pink Ladies” girl gang. I was hoping for younger Rizzo, but no dice: the focal character is Jane Facciano, who moved to “Rydell High” last year and started dating jock Buddy Aldridge … but when the two are spotted doing “everything but” at the drive-in, Jane gets slut-shamed. In response, she decides to run for student president against Buddy, rallying other misfits to “make Rydell fun for everyone.” As she does, she struggles with her mixed Italian-Puerto Rican heritage.
Jane hooks up with three other girls: Olivia Valdovinos was discovered last year to be having an affair with a teacher. He blamed it on her, and she’s now considered a slut too, which she starts embracing by dressing sexy — despite being super smart and wanting to go to college.
Cynthia Znudowski would be considered genderqueer today, but is a tomboy in the 1950s and the show. All she wants is to join the T-Birds guy gang and work on cars with the guys, but she’s disappointed when they refuse to admit a “girl.” She’s played by trans actress Ari Notartomaso, which is pretty cool!
The final member of the eventual Pink Ladies is Nancy Nakagawa. She wants to be a fashion designer and has some funny lines related to fashion and sewing. She also thinks boys are stupid and gets dropped by her longtime best friends as a result.
When Jane announces she’s running for president and makes a speech about all the people who feel left out, the four girls find each other and start rebelling — and eventually become the official Pink Ladies.
Overall, the costumes are strong and very 1950s. Costume designer Angelina Kekich, who designed the costumes along with Samantha Hawkins, told Screenrant.com,
“I really wanted to continue on the direction that Albert [Wolsky, designer of Grease (1978)] had taken in the original 1978 film, and bring that into Rise of the Pink Ladies. As I like to say, I wanted to put my own kind of dazzle or shimmer to it for the 21st century.”
The interviewer points out that the original Grease was a 1970s take on the 1950s, so this production followed suit by aiming for a modern take on the period. Kekich said,
“We modernized it by the fabrics that we used, because we definitely can’t go back in time and get those fabrics. And, of course, we’re dealing with dance, acting, and musical numbers, with triple threat actors. That requires new ways of designing costumes that are tailored to what the cast needs in their dance sequences, their acting, and singing … Also, our work included modernizing the silhouettes, changing things up a little bit, and tailoring them differently.”
One example of how they did that was with the character Olivia’s pencil skirts:
“We used fabrics that had a four-way stretch to them. They definitely had a period feel, but it also allowed her to jump on the tables and jump on the beds.”
The costumes also tell a lot about character, of course:
The main problem I had with the series was the storyline and music. While Jane starts dating greaser Richie, it’s less of a focus than in the movie story; instead, things are more about cliques and outcasts. Which is great, let’s not make every story a romance!
But after a few episodes, having Jane continue to stress about becoming student president got boring. Things were made worse by the music, which — although I’ve never seen/heard it — felt very High School Musical. No, the original show/film doesn’t have 1950s-style music either, but this was just your Standard Musical Theater songs about things like “the new cool” and Jane wanting “more.” I made it through about episode 4 before my interest had waned enough to switch shows, and I was needing binge material for sewing background, so that’s saying something that I was bored enough I turned it off. I’m not saying it’s terrible! But it didn’t have the nostalgic charm of the original film, and the music was waaaaay less catchy.
Have you seen Grease: Rise of the Pink Ladies? What did you think?