Jim Jacobs Edith Oliver - Essay

Edith Oliver

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

["Grease"] is—if such a thing is conceivable—an exercise in dry-eyed nostalgia for the nineteen-fifties, the era of Elvis Presley and radio disc jockeys. Jim Jacobs and Warren Casey, who wrote the book, score, and lyrics, have apparently steeped themselves in a period when any nuisance or personal misfortune, however transitory, was good for a lament. Three of the best and funniest numbers are "It's Raining on Prom Night," "Alone at a Drive-In Movie," and "Beauty School Dropout." The tone of the show is tongue-in-(and-out-of-) cheek, and perhaps it is true that the best way to parody the fifties is simply to imitate them, for the songs here are just fifties songs, and pretty good ones. The book, such as it is, is entirely concerned with the activities of a high school class—lunchroom gossip and lunchroom plotting, a pajama party, and abortive gang rumble, a school dance, a pregnancy scare, and holdout virginity. There are some amusing lines, and everything certainly looks and sounds authentic….

And yet, as I sat watching it, I kept feeling that I should be having a better time…. [The characters] are neither interesting nor especially attractive, and Mr. Jacobs and Mr. Casey certainly haven't bothered to give them anything interesting to do, relying instead, perhaps, on that nostalgia to be generated in the audience. A mistake. Who wants to be bothered remembering the fifties? The thirties and forties, yes, and the sixties, yes indeed, but the nineteen-fifties made one of the dullest decades on record and are better forgotten. (p. 68)

Edith Oliver, in The New Yorker (© 1972 by The New Yorker Magazine, Inc.), February 26, 1972.