‘Grease: Rise of the Pink Ladies’: How the Musical Streaming Series Brought Back the ’50s

One of the very, very few topics that virtually every film and TV fan can agree on is that “Grease” is fantastic. The 1978 musical — which stars John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John as two high schoolers who find their summer romance tested by the social dynamics at Rydell High School — is the kind of timeless, feel-good entertainment that’s virtually impossible to dislike. 

The film rode the wave of 1950s nostalgia that swept the nation in the ’70s (see: “Happy Days” and “American Grafitti”) to become one of the most recognizable films ever made. An incredible songbook that includes all-timers, from the “Summer Nights” solo and “You’re the One That I Want” duet to Frankie Avalon’s dreamy “Beauty School Dropout,” make it the sort of film that you can rewatch any time, anywhere and almost always enjoy yourself. 

How do you put your own spin on a property that’s so beloved? It’s a daunting task for any creative team, but “Grease: Rise of the Pink Ladies” approached the challenge head-on. Annabel Oakes’ Paramount+ series turned back the hands of time at Rydell High, transporting audiences to 1954 for an expansion on the “Grease” mythology. Bettie Rizzo and her Pink Ladies might have been supporting players in the love story of Danny Zuko and Sandy Olsson, but there’s no denying that they ruled the school. And so, “Grease: Rise of the Pink Ladies” explores the formation of the iconic girl gang: shedding light on the women who paved the way for Bettie’s reign. 

“Grease: Rise of the Pink Ladies” will be featured as a panel at IndieWire’s Consider This FYC event this Saturday, June 3. Producing director/executive producer Alethea Jones, choreographer Jamal Sims, costume designer Samantha Hawkins, and hair department head Jaala Leis Wanless will tell us how they brought these checkerboard pastel days to life.

Recreating the aesthetic of “Grease” is tricky because the film’s optimistic, candy-colored portrayal of the 1950s has become a distinct cultural relic in its own right. Designing costumes and sets for “Rise of the Pink Ladies” wasn’t as simple as researching the time period. The team had to capture and recreate a fantasy version of the era that’s shaped pop culture’s understanding of history for the past 45 years. 

And then, of course, there’s the musical numbers. “Rise of the Pink Ladies” busted out a new slate of songs to expand the “Grease” canon, and the entire crafts team had to ensure that their work could hold up against the extensive choreography conjured to match.

“Grease: Rise of the Pink Ladies” is  proof that the “Grease” brand is still alive and well, and that sentimentality for Rydell isn’t going out of style anytime soon. Keep reading to see how the team pulled it off, ahead of the Emmys and IndieWire’s annual Consider This event in Los Angeles on June 3.

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