Friday, February 22, 2013

Summer Nights and Grease at Bryant Park

By Isabelle Steichen 

In 1971 Grease was still a Broadway musical. Seven years later it became a movie. It was released in American movie theaters for the first time in 1978, with the legendary John Travolta as Danny and young Olivia Newton-John as Sandy. The film can really be seen as the kick-off of Travolta and Newton-John’s actor careers, as they soon became national and international movie icons. In 1998, a 20 year anniversary edition was released in order to celebrate this piece of cinematography. This past Christmas, Travolta and Newton-John reunited for a special Soundtrack Christmas edition, on which they perform among others classics such as the famous ‘Summer Nights’.

Read Vincent Candby’s excited review on Grease that he published in 1978 in the New York Times, and then grab your blankets and hurry to Bryant Park next Monday, to view the movie at the final evening of the Citi Pond Winter Film Festival.

Grease (1978)
Screen: A Slick Version of 'Grease': Fantasy of the 50's

The New York Times
Published: June 16, 1978

"GREASE," the film version of the still-running Broadway musical show, is not really the 1950's teen-age movie musical it thinks it is, but a contemporary fantasy about a 1950's teen-age musical—a larger, funnier, wittier and more imaginative-than-Hollywood movie with a life that is all its own. It uses the Eisenhower era — the characters, costumes, gestures and particularly, the music—to create a time and place that have less to do with any real 50's than with a kind of show business that is both timeless and old-fashioned, both sentimental and wise. The movie, which opens today at Loews State 2 and other theaters, is also terrific fun.

Because I seem to be one of the few persons who has never seen the Broadway show, I'm not sure how the movie differs from the original, yet it's apparent that the film's score, which is one of the best things about the production, has been liberally supplemented by new material and new-old material, including "Love Is a Many Splendored Thing," which has never before sounded so marvelously, soaringly inane.

Somewhat in the manner of "Close Encounters of the Third Kind," which recalls the science-fiction films of the 50's in a manner more elegant and more benign, than anything that was ever made then, "Grease" is a multimillion-dollar evocation of the B-picture quickies that Sam Katzman used to turn out in the 50's ("Don't Knock the Rock," 1957) and that American International carried to the sea in the 1960's ("Beach Party," 1963).

The gang at old Rydell High, which is the universe of "Grease," is unlike any high school class you've ever seen except in the movies. For one thing, they're all rather long in the tooth to be playing kids who'd hang around malt shops. For another, they are loaded with the kind of talent and exuberance you don't often find very far from a musical stage. They not only portray characters but effectively make comments on them.

Olivia Newton-John, the recording star in her American film debut, is simultaneously very funny and utterly charming as the film's ingénue, a demure, virginal Sandra Dee-type. She possesses true screen presence as well as a sweet, sure singing voice, while the Sandra Dee I remember had a voice that seemed to have been manufactured in Universal's speech-and-special-effects department.

John Travolta, as Miss Newton-John's costar, a not-so-malevolent gang-leader, is better than he was in "Saturday Night Fever." I'm still not sure if he's a great actor, but he's a fine performer with the kind of energy and humor that are brought to life by the musical numbers.

Stockard Channing, as the high school's tramp who has a dirty mouth and a heart of gold, would (if it were possible) stop the show twice, once with a pasty put-on of poor Olivia ("Look at Me, I'm Sandra Dee") and another when she attempts, in song, to explain why it's more honorable to be loose than uptight ("There Are Worse Things I Could Do").

The film's producers, Robert Stigwood and Allen Carr, and director, Rundel Kleiser (whose first theatrical feature this is), have also supplemented the cast of comparative youngsters with a whole crowd of actors we associate with the 50's, and who seem here to have survived with barely a visible dent.

Eve Arden, a fixture of the 50's as Our Miss Brooks, plays Rydell High's unflappable principal; Sid Caesar is the football coach; Edd Byrnes comes on briefly as the lecherous host of a teen-age TV show that decides to spotlight Rydell in a network program; Jean Blondell is the harassed waitress at the corner soda fountain, and, maybe funniest of all, is Frankie Avalon, who appears in a dream sequence to counsel an unhappy student ("Beauty School Dropout").

Bronte Woodward has adapted the Broadway book by Jim Jacobs and Warren Casey, who also wrote the show's original score, in such a way that the plot serves the purpose of the music without needlessly interfering with it.

It's to the director's credit that the musical numbers slip in and out of reality mostly with hugely comic effect. The highlights of the stage show include the upbeat rock number, "We Go Together," and the rueful "Summer Nights," both sung by Mr. Travolta and Miss Newton-John, but the hit of the film is probably a breathless new number, "You're the One That, I Want," written by John Farrar and beautifully choreographed by Patricia Birch.

Because there haven't been that many movie musicals recently, it doesn't mean much to say that "Grease" is the best we've had in years. I'm also afraid that people who (like me) have no special fondness for the 50's might be put off by the film's time and place. Let me emphasize, then, that "Grease" stands outside the traditions it mimics. Its sensibility is not tied to the past but to a free-wheeling, well informed, high-spirited present.

"Grease," which has been ruled PG ("Parental Guidance Suggested") has some language that would never have been heard even on Broadway in the 50's, and though it deals with teen-age lust quite frankly, it's heart is always pure.

Fantasy of the 50's

GREASE, directed by Randal Kleiser; screenplay Bronte Woodward, adapted by Allan Carr from the Broadway musical by Jim Jacobs and Warren Casey; produced by Robert Stigwood and Mr. Carr; dances and musical sequences staged and choreographed by Patricia Birch; music supervision Bill Oakes; director of photography, Bill Butler; editor, John F. Burnett; distributed by Paramount Pictures. Running time: 110 minutes. At Loews State 2, Broadway at 45th Street, and other theaters. This film has been rated PG.

Danny . . . . . John Travolta
Sandy . . . . . Olivia Newton-John
Rizzo . . . . . Stockard Channing
Kenickie . . . . . Jeff Conway
Frenchy . . . . . Didi Conn
Principal McGee . . . . . Eve Arden
Teen Angel . . . . . Frankie Avalon
Vi . . . . . Joan Blondell
Vince Fontaine . . . . . Edd Byrnes
Coach Calhoua . . . . . Sid Caesar
Mrs. Murdock . . . . . Alice Ghostley
Blanche . . . . . Dody Goodman
Johnny Casino and the Gamblers . . . . . Sha-Na-Na
Jan . . . . . Jamie Donnelly
Marty . . . . . Dinah Manoff
Doody . . . . . Barry Pearl
Sonny . . . . . Michael Tucci
Putzie . . . . . Kelly Ward
Patty Simcox . . . . . Susan Buckner
Eugene . . . . . Eddie Deszen
Tom Chisum . . . . . Lorenzo Lamas
Leo . . . . . Dennis C. Stewart
Cha Cha . . . . . Annette Charles
Mr. Rudie . . . . . Dick Patterson
Nurse Wilkins . . . . . Fannie Flagg
Mr. Lynch . . . . . Darrell Zwerling
Waitress . . . . . Ellen Travolta

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