Grease: Rise of the Pink Ladies

Bursting with colour and energy, this Grease prequel puts a new lens on a classic world -but the score has a lot to live up to.

Look, there’s a lot to like about Grease: Rise of the Pink Ladies, but the question is do the sum of the parts amount to a whole, and really, why are we making a whole?

Based upon timeless material by Broadway writers Jim Jacobs and Warren Casey, Paramount+’s new musical series sure has a lot to live up to. Yet in the hands of a talented cast and some skilled creatives, including director Alethea Jones and choreographer Jamal Sims, it surely gives it a red hot go.

Set 4 years before the events at Rydell High, the series puts a 2023 lens onto a period high school, which is quite the paradox.

The central character is no longer the reserved Sandy, but the nerdy unpopular girl Jane (Marisa Davila) whose family recently moved to the area. When the series begins she’s getting hot and steamy with the school’s most popular and clean-cut boy, Buddy (Jason Schmidt). As the action opens out to a full-on drive in musical number of Grease -brilliantly staged by all involved- it feels like we are in for a full-throttle, slicked-back spectacle.

However the theme of the episode, fuelled by dirty rumours amongst gossiping classmates, is that Jane let Buddy have his way with her which in 1954 is a definite no-no. While Buddy is happy to trade off the myth he’s a stud, Jane only brings shame (and possibly STDs) upon herself.

“After all a girl’s reputation is all that she has,” insists Asst. Principal McGee (the fantastic Jackie Hoffman).

Feeling further outcast, Jane will find solace in other ‘misfits’ including Latin spitfire Olivia (Cheyenne Isabel Wells), aspiring fashion designer Nancy (Tricia Fukuhara) and tomboy and T-Bird wanna-be Cynthia (the energetic Ari Notartomaso).

As school elections near and Buddy is running for School Captain, Jane will need to dig deep to rise up with some pioneering girl power.

Sprinkled throughout are musical numbers set in the school buildings, yards, homes and garages -heck there’s even a Greased Lightning clone as “New Cool” -I guess damned if you do, damned if you don’t?

Other notable characters are the dashing T-Bird leader Richie (Johnathan Nieves) and popular girl Susan (Madison Thompson). All of them are triple threats, acting, singing and dancing up a storm in elaborately staged production numbers. Hats off too to the costume and production design depts, with a screen bursting in primary colours, lending itself to fantasy scenes -if constantly looking like sound stages rather than actual locations.

There’s also plenty of diversity with Latin and Asian performers, boy cheerleaders and hints of LGBT characters initially around the edges. The show’s themes of equality and staying true to self were barely a murmur in the original Grease (which was recently banned by one high school for its depiction of female characters). It requires a leap of faith by the viewer to overlook how the two works will meet in the middle, but this show’s heart is so in the right place, that’s not difficult to do.

What is a little more challenging is the score, which falls short of the Grease name.

These songs, under musical director Jack Tranter (songs by Lady Gaga and Selena Gomez were not credited), don’t do enough to further character and feel like they belong on an Ariana Grande album. Given that misfits linking arms was also the heart of the memorable Glee, I find myself wondering why this series has tried to justify its existence.

But damn their energy is so hard to resist, maybe I shouldn’t put up a fight?

Grease: Rise of the Pink Ladies premieres Friday on Paramount+

4 Responses

  1. I tried the first episode….they really didn’t dance like that in the fifties and as for making it all equal etc , no where in America in the fifties would you have found a black man with his arm around a white girl…..it just would not have happened…..

  2. Watched first episode won’t continue with it …. Too cheesy, over the top acting and thought there would be better dance scenes like we were used to seeing in Zoeys Extraordinary Playlist but there wasn’t

Leave a Reply