Fans of High School Musical, and the eponymous Glee should dust off their dance routines as the show harks back to the classic which made John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John famous.
Back in 1978, cinematic high schools were populated by teenagers pushing 30. In the case of Stockard Channing (Rizzo), she was 33 when she got cast as leader of the Pink Ladies. In retrospect, modern audiences might look back on Grease as a relic, memorable for nothing more than a solid soundtrack from Bee Gee Barry Gibb.
However, it also gave film makers endless opportunities to lift those creative components and bleed the concept dry. A fact which raises questions around the necessity for a prequel almost 50 years on.
Read more: New on Paramount+ in April
However, if creator, show runner, and writer Annabel Oakes wanted to hit the ground running with this second coming of Rydell High, she needed a few essentials.
First on the list was a charismatic quartet of fresh-faced actors, capable of breathing life into those Pink Ladies. The show needs actors capable of making these characters instantly iconic for future generations, who are able to belt out show tunes convincingly.
That approach certainly seems to pay dividends in the opening minutes of episode one, when audiences are introduced to Jane (Marisa Davila). A Rydell High senior who quickly becomes the talk of their local drive-in, when she gets together with Buddy (Jason Schmidt), a stereotypical heart throb — who also happens to be on the football team.
Cue a slick montage of introductions which bring into play Latino greasers, bobby sockers, and some carefully chosen inclusive casting choices – which shamelessly broaden the appeal without missing a beat.
Amongst them is Olivia (Cheyenne Isabel Wells), Nancy (Tricia Fukuhara), and Cynthia (Ari Notartomaso), who all come together with Jane and make up the Pink Ladies.
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Beyond the seamless casting of this energetic ensemble, Grease: Rise of the Pink Ladies works well because of reverence Annabel Oakes affords her source material.
There are minor musical digressions in that opening tune, which update the stonking 70s title theme, yet retrofit it for a new audience. Simply by making this collection of actors more age appropriate, this show runner instantly earns herself some breathing room as well, since there are no five o’clock shadows in sight, and almost everyone fits the bill.
In a dramatic sense, Grease: Rise of the Pink Ladies was never going to re-invent the wheel. After all, this is teenage angst territory with outrageous choreography and synchronised dance numbers. That being said, where it really needed to deliver was in the music department, since Barry Gibb and his iconic status in relation to Grease left some big shoes to fill. Thankfully, Justin Tranter (Alita: Battle Angel), Zachary Dawes (True Detective), and Nick Sena (The Peanut Butter Falcon) prove more than capable.
As the inconsequential plotlines unfold, and this direct sequel effortlessly recaptures that iconic vibe in its opening episode, this musical brain trust set about holding things together through song. At various points throughout this series, each pink lady gets her moment to shine, either individually or in unison. Meaning that sixty minutes often flies by, as cleverly constructed dramatic segues evolve into crowd-pleasing song and dance distractions.
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Needless to say, Grease: The Rise of the Pink Ladies is aiming at a specific demographic, designed to appease audiences of a certain age. However, this Paramount+ original is not simply a blatant cash-in, nor some type of short-term fix for Glee refugees.
Beyond the façade of high school heartbreak and relationship drama, composers Justin Tranter, Zachary Dawes, and Nick Sena have something else to say.
Watch a trailer for Grease: Rise of the Pink Ladies
Throughout this show there are some lyrical choices hidden within the mainstream crowd pleasers, which hint at another agenda. Whether that agenda might include female empowerment in a male-dominated 50s landscape, or songs around objectification which sound more contemporary than era appropriate – there is no denying something is simmering beneath the surface.
Thankfully, with that additional dimension thrown into the mix, this inspired prequel to the 1978 classic really delivers. Offering up a teenage melodrama with real teenagers, who sing, dance, and emote their way through some good songs.
It may not end up launching the careers of these particular pink ladies, purely because entertainment landscapes have changed so radically since John Travolta got his album deal, and Olivia Newton-John asked everyone to get physical.
However, if the aim of this show was to pay tribute, then creator, show runner, and writer Annabel Oakes should be proud.
Grease: Rise of the Pink Ladies premieres on Paramount+ in the UK from 7 April.