Saturday, April 21, 2018

'Grease' turns 40: The Pink Ladies and T-Birds remember the wild ride filming the carnival finale

Jeff Conaway (Kenickie), Olivia Newton-John (Sandy), John Travolta (Danny), and Stockard Channing (Rizzo) in the Grease carnival scene, with Jamie Donnelly (Jan) at left in the green dress. (Photo: Paramount Pictures/courtesy of the Everett Collection)

by: Gwynne Watkins
After all the high school drama (and accompanying musical numbers), the carnival scene in Grease gives the students of Rydell High a fairy-tale ending. Sandy, the virginal duckling, transforms into a red-stiletto-wearing swan; bad-girl Rizzo’s pregnancy scare vanishes; the Pink Ladies and the T-Birds pair off, as if under a love spell, and reformed delinquent Danny drives his shiny Ford convertible (technically Kenickie’s, but who cares?) into the sky, with Sandy by his side. In another film, it might all be too much. But for a musical like this, it’s perfect.
Not that there are other musicals quite like this one. Grease hit theaters in 1978, at a time when 1950s nostalgia was hot but movie musicals were decidedly not. Based on a raunchy Broadway show, Randal Kleiser’s film had an unproven cast (many members, including John Travolta, had appeared in the stage musical), pastiche musical numbers (albeit with sometimes filthy lyrics), and a tone so earnest you could barely make out the outline of a tongue gently planted in its cheek. Nevertheless, Grease was a hit — not just a hit but a sensation, the biggest film of the year and the highest-grossing movie musical of the century. 

Forty years later, Grease is more beloved than ever. One could name many reasons — the catchy songs, the spirited dance numbers, the ageless cool of Travolta and Olivia Newton-John — but ask the cast, and they’ll tell you that the film is magic. The feel-good buzz that the audience gets watching Grease is exactly what the actors felt while they were making it. It’s what kept them dancing in leather jackets in the brutal Los Angeles heat. It’s what made them friends for life.
And nowhere is that joy more palpable than in the carnival scene, a 10-minute outdoor romp that brings the whole cast together for two last musical numbers: the Travolta/Newton-John duet “You’re the One That I Want” and the high-energy group number “We Go Together.” To celebrate the film’s upcoming 40th anniversary (June 16), and next Tuesday’s release of a new Blu-ray edition packaged in a miniature Rydell yearbook, Yahoo Entertainment spoke with the original T-Birds and Pink Ladies (with the exception of Travolta, Newton-John, Stockard Channing, and the late Jeff Conaway, who played Kenickie) to assemble an oral history of Grease’s unforgettable final scene. 


Watch “You’re the One That I Want,”  the duet with John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John in the carnival scene:   

Summer Nights: 

The carnival scene was shot in the summer of 1977, toward the end of filming, at the football field of John Marshall High School (one of three schools that stood in for the fictional Rydell High) . The cast had been rehearsing the final number for weeks, but didn’t realize until they arrived on set that producer Allan Carr had rented an actual, fully-operational carnival.

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