Here’s what we love about this quintessentially 1950s musical
Grease (US/UK), the international musical sensation about high school, romance and rock ’n’ roll, made its Broadway debut on Valentine’s Day in 1972. The smash-hit production set a record as Broadway’s longest-running show, tallying an astonishing 3,388 performances. In 1978, Grease became a blockbuster motion picture starring John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John. A pop culture sensation, the movie adaptation was, at the time, the highest-grossing film ever made.
With hit productions in the West End, two knockout Broadway revivals, and a slew of regional, community and school theatre productions, Grease continues to wow audiences worldwide. For many theatre makers, professional and amateur, Grease was an introduction to musicals… the show that started it all.
So, what keeps us all “Shakin’ at the High School Hop” 50 years after the show’s premiere? It’s gotta be all those great 1950s references! From bobby socks to soda shops, here’s a list of our favorite, quintessentially 1950s things about Grease.
Bobby Socks and Saddle Shoes
Though bobby socks originated in the 1940s as a replacement for nylons, the ankle-high cotton socks became a fashion staple that lasted for decades. By the late ’50s, rolled-down bobby socks, paired with two-toned bucks or saddle shoes, became the standard for spirited cheerleaders like Patty Simcox. (Tough girls like Rizzo and the Pink Ladies had moved on to heels, boots or sneakers.)
Yes, in the ’50s, kids carried actual bound-paper books to school, and without a backpack! Every school had its own version of Eugene Florczyk, fumbling down the hallway with a comically oversized load of textbooks.
With “a fuel injection cut-off and chrome plated rods,” Greased Lightning was built to impress! Danny, Kenickie and the Greasers knew what mattered in the late 1950s; with drive-in movies and drive-up burger joints, car culture had really taken off. When your social life revolves around your vehicle, you better get some purple-pitched taillights and thirty-inch fins, oh yeah.
Classic Rock & Roll
C, A minor, F, G7… Doody figured it out: the catchy, falsetto, doo-wop, early rock ‘n’ roll sound was all about “Those Magic Changes.” Grease captures that signature sound, with just a touch of the early ’70s thrown in for freshness.
You had to have an unbreakable plastic comb in the back pocket of your jeans. How else could you maintain that perfectly greased ducktail?
Some teens were “Born to Hand Jive” and some were “Shakin’ it at the Hop,” but either way, everybody loved to dance in the ’50s. By 1959, the Jitterbug, Lindy, Rock ’n’ Roll, Boogie-Woogie and Bop were thriving at Rydell High; soon everybody would be doing the Twist, the Mashed Potato and the Pony.
Sometimes it was a “car date”; sometimes he just walked her to the movies. And at least one time, it was a series of “Summer Nights” that led to a rocky year of high school romance. No matter what, dating in the late 1950s was serious business, from first dates to going steady to getting pinned.
Teenagers like Danny, Kenickie, Sonny and Roger modeled themselves after Hollywood tough guys like Marlon Brando and James Dean, with slicked hair, leather jackets, black boots and jeans. But ask any Pink Lady and she’ll tell you: When the other guys aren’t around, Greasers are all softies at heart.
From Miss Lynch’s bouffant to Jan’s headbands to Sandy’s ponytail, the hairstyles in Grease capture the massive generation gap between 50s teens and their parents. For boys, grease was definitely the word… the greasier, the better.
Jeans, White T-Shirts & Black Leather Jackets
Does anything capture the late ’50s better than this classic fashion trio? Maybe the jeans are rolled, maybe the t-shirt sleeves are rolled, and maybe the jacket says, “Burger Palace Boys” or “T-Birds.” The details don’t matter: any variation on this vintage look captures the spirit and energy of the Grease generation.
Jukeboxes, Records & Record Players
Rock ’n’ roll music was everywhere in the ’50s, and teens could enjoy the latest hits at home on long-playing vinyl records (now in stereophonic sound!) or at the local burger place, where 45 singles were flipping on every multicolored, glass-and-chrome jukebox around the country.
We’re not talking about tiny headsets or sleek hand-held mics… in the ’50s, the microphone made a statement all by itself. When it was time for Johnny Casino to lead the hand jive, he stepped behind a heavy, silver Electrovoice 664.
Every generation has its teen idols, and Rizzo reels off a list of late-’50s celebrities in “Look at Me, I’m Sandra Dee.” With sweet and innocent teens like Sandra Dee, Doris Day and Annette Funicello courting clean-cut boyfriends like Frankie Avalon and Rock Hudson, the movie stars of the ’50s were the epitome of wholesomeness.
Chang chang, changitty chang shoo bop… 1959, teenagers and rock ’n’ roll go together like rama-lama-lama, ka-dingity ding-de-dong.
Poodle Skirts & Pedal Pushers
Two contrasting looks for girls captured the fashion of the ’50s: Cinch-waisted full skirts decorated with playful poodle designs said, “I’m feminine and flirty.” Tight calf-length pants, in bold colors and patterns, said, “I’m casual and free-spirited.” Both designs said, “It’s 1959, and I am one cool kitten, Daddy-o!”
Radios & DJs
“What’s that playin’ on the radio?” Radio was king in the 50s, and smooth-talking DJs like the Main Brain — Vince Fontaine — were always there to guide the guys and gals through their listening experience, through the airwaves or in person at the high school hop.
Soda Shops, Burger Joints & Ice Cream Sundaes
Teens always need a place to socialize, and in 1959, the kids at Rydell High hung out at the Burger Palace – the perfect place to meet the gang, get a burger and a milkshake, and even meet someone new. Who knows? Maybe it might be lo-o-ove!