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09th Aug 2022

Olivia Newton-John: Why did Grease have such an impact on us?

Grease is the word.

Olivia Newton-John’s passing on Monday shocked us all, while many of us knew she had been ill, it’s hard to believe someone of her stature is gone.

As tributes began pouring in, it was John Travolta’s post that seemed to capture us all. The friendship they built from their time as Danny and Sandy and the connection we all have to those characters, it’s something a film hasn’t done as well since.

I am a self-confessed theatre fanatic, I love musical theatre and everything it has to offer. Grease was one of the first I ever saw, like many of us. And if it wasn’t the first I saw, it was by far the first I remember.

No matter how many versions of it I see, nothing compares to Olivia and John’s take on Sandy and Danny. There’s something so iconic and truly unforgettable about those performances.

Set in a time that is almost alien to us now, in a society that existed primarily in US high schools, it feels that we travelling to a new dimension every time we watch Grease.

While my own school experience, and most others, was not at all like the one we see in Grease, it was something so far from our reality that intrigued us all so much, something so out of our world here in Ireland that left us gripped.

As a woman in my 20s obsessed with this type of film anyway, it makes sense as to why I might love something like Grease, but it isn’t just my generation who does. My dad recalls it coming out in the cinema in 1978 when he was 14 and dragging his brother to see it more than a few times, it was a film that defined generations but lived on through others.

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We all wanted to be Sandy, not only for her iconic outift and hairstyle during You’re The One That I Want, but also her good set of morals and being e genuinely good person. Olivia’s portrayal of the at times naive and innocent schoolgirl was the most memorable of her career, and for a good reason.

While Rizzo was definitely the more entertaining character and has a much more impactful storyline, looking back on the film now, it’s Sandy we should all be thriving to be, a good person.

Grease tackled storylines at the time that were risky, it showed teen pregnancy in the 1950s to a 70s audience in a country where abortion had only been legalised. While Rizzo’s “pregnancy” was a false alarm, many people remember it happening differently in a story that ended with an abortion, which allowed audiences to be more normalised to the issue at hamd, even if it was never the intention.

Grease allowed conversations to open up, people began talking about issues that before this would have been so taboo and swept under the rug, people were more relaxed about certain topics, we got a glimpse of what others go through that is unimaginable to us.

While some of it has not aged well, the film still has a special place in our hearts. It was the start of films normalising teenagers in school and what they really get up to and it touched on teen pregnancy. And while films in todays era doing this are getting it a lot better, it had to start somewhere and Grease was that for us.

Olivia Newton-John may be gone now, but her performance as Sandy will always be one that will stick with us.