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“Rise Of The Pink Ladies” Might Just Be The Only Sequel Worth Watching

by Faith Green

Grease: Rise of The Pink Ladies is an upbeat take on the classic Grease franchise. With classic teen drama, elaborate ensemble performances, and catchy, expertly produced songs, it’s bound to be the hit show of the summer. Rise of The Pink Ladies focuses on a group of misfits that band together after being ostracized from Rydell High, all while adding context for the events and characters portrayed in the 1978 movie, Grease (which itself was based on a stage musical). Whether it’s nefarious rumors, ethnic differences, or something else entirely, characters Jane, Cynthia, Olivia, and Nancy have found solace in one another, all while fighting to change the oppressive social structure of their suburban 1950s high school. 

Rise of The Pink Ladies has already done better than previous attempts to revitalize the Grease franchise, like the made-for-TV musical Grease Live, which was released in 2016 to lukewarm reception. While Rise Of the Pink Ladies follows the same classic musical formula as the 1970s original, it tells Rydell High’s story from the angle of the outcasts, which is unlike anything we’ve ever seen in other iterations of Grease. Even Grease 2 tried to shift the focus by gender-switching the plot, but the sequel still “flopped with gusto.” Unlike Grease 2 however, it’s clear that the creators of Pink Ladies delicately handled the franchise, and put a large amount of effort into figuring out how to make it work for modern-day audiences. And as a bonus, it’s full of nods to the original 1978 classic. 

The cast is composed mostly of people of color, like the character Nancy Nakagawa, who is portrayed by Japanese actress Tricia Fukuhara. Marisa Davila is the Mexican-American actress who plays protagonist Jane Facciano, the half Puerto Rican, half-Italian “new girl.” Her storyline focuses mostly on her difficulty fitting in in a new school, especially after the rumors circulating around her relationship with her popular boyfriend, Buddy. In the first episode, we see her mother chiding Jane’s little sister for speaking Spanish, which was something “they left in New York.” This mirrors the real-life experience of many immigrants and people of color at the time, who felt pressured to hide their heritage to avoid discrimination. It’s a quick line, but it perfectly balances the need to address the issue at hand without being exorbitant or pedantic. Jane and her family also play a big part in the Grease franchise, but you’ll just have to watch to find out how!

Cheyenne Isabel Wells plays Latinx bombshell Olivia Valdovinos, whose character serves to dissect the tropes surrounding the oversexualization of Latina women. Olivia is constantly harassed by her peers for being “overly sexual,” a reputation that only exists as a result of the (potentially untrue) rumors surrounding her. Pink Ladies does a fantastic job at balancing the discussion of racial stereotypes without contributing to what’s aiming to criticize. This includes a storyline where Olivia gets reprimanded for wearing a revealing dress —the same one a white student was allowed to wear without incident. In a press interview, Wells stated, “Latina women in general are very sexualized because of their bodies and their body shapes… because her outfit is tight and she’s a little thicker, [teachers say] she’s in the wrong but not the other person.” 

Shanel Bailey’s character Hazel isn’t introduced until after the first episode, but she is one of the black students at Rydell High. Instead of using her as a token character or a vehicle to discuss racism, the show balances Hazel’s development while acknowledging the racism of the time period, which is something Bailey expressed appreciation for. “It’s not the only thing that we focus on and it’s not traumatic. I love that we get to see Hazel’s joy. I just want to see that girl smile and know that there are hardships out there but I want to see her dance.”

And there’s even more diversity: trans & non-binary actor Ari Notartomaso also gets to shine in the spotlight. Their character Cynthia struggles with their inability to be seen as “one of the boys,” and wants to become a T-Bird officially. But because of gender, Cynthia isn’t taken seriously, despite already being friends with the entire gang. (The “Greased Lightning”-esque musical number lead by Notartomaso is a perfect example of gender euphoria.)  The showrunners handle the subject matter with the delicacy and respect that it deserves, and have somehow managed to perfectly balance an archaic aesthetic with modern socio-political commentary. Unlike other modernized reboots, these issues are discussed overtly but not excessively, which is one of the main criticisms of “requel” shows like Gossip Girl and Velma.

If you’re a fan of musicals like Legally Blonde, Heathers, and Wicked, the music in Grease: Rise Of The Pink Ladies will definitely have you singing in the shower. The first (and arguably the grooviest) musical number in the show is a fun, modern-ish take on the classic titular hit “Grease.” The musical arrangement is fresh (and the recording is obviously way too clean and well -produced to be from the 50s), but the music still embodies the classic Grease vibes we all know and love. The drama can be heavy at times, but the show-runners balance this well with the musical aspects of the show. 

The costumes and sets are amazing, and it’s not just poodle skirts and kitten heels. The use of period-accurate saddle shoes, and Chevrolet Bel Airs, make all the promotional footage look like authentic photos from the 50s. And coupled with the outfits and atmosphere, you can tell a lot of care and love went into making this look incredible. 

All in all, there are too many good reasons to not give this show a try. You might be thinking “ugh, another musical set in high school?” but this is unlike any high school musical you’ve ever seen. Rise Of The Pink Ladies offers an effervescent and comprehensive take on the unsung heroes of Rydell High. And you’d be total square if you don’t flip your lid over these cool 1950s chicks. 

Top Photo Credit: Eduardo Araquel/Paramount+

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