Olivia Newton-John was best known as a singer when she was hired to portray Sandy Olsson alongside John Travolta‘s Danny in the 1978 film, Grease. However, the movie had intricate dance elements out of Newton-John’s wheelhouse. These iconic dance segments are integral to Sandy’s role. Therefore, Newton-John had to get up to speed quickly but admitted, “I was very klutzy.”
What came first, ‘Grease’ the musical or the movie?
Before Grease became a movie-musical sensation in the late 1970s, it was a Tony-nominated Broadway musical that opened in February 1972.
Written by Jim Jacobs and Warren Casey, Grease took its name from greasers popularized in the 1950s and set at the fictional Rydell High School (the same setting for the movie), named after singer Bobby Rydell.
The stage musical is drastically different from the motion picture.
The original stage production featured a raw, aggressive, and vulgar script that tackled teenage pregnancy, peer pressure, gang violence, teenage rebellion, and sexual exploration.
Subsequent productions of the play toned down the material to make it accessible for families, and the story was sanitized further for the 1978 film.
Olivia Newton-John had never danced before ‘Grease’
Ahead of starring in Grease, Newton-John rose to fame as a singer with songs such as “Let Me Be There,” which won her a 1974 Grammy Award, as well as “If You Love Me Let Me Know,” “Have You Never Been Mellow,” and “Please Mr. Please.”
Newton-John’s older sister, Rona, was trained in ballet.
“She was very graceful. But me? Nooo, I was very klutzy. I had difficulty putting one foot in front of the other,” Newton-John told the Las Vegas Sun.
Therefore, Newton-John might have had difficulties as that type of movement didn’t come naturally.
This task lay in the hands of Grease‘s choreographer, Pat Birch.
“She was amazing. She would watch how you moved naturally and choreographed you to use that movement,” Newton-John revealed.
“It took us a week to rehearse the ‘Hand Jive’ number, and we rehearsed the scene where John lifted me repeatedly.”
“It was going to dance class every day with the whole cast. We all learned to move together.”
Olivia Newton-John talks about the one ‘Grease’ scene where everyone wanted to be Sandy
In her book Don’t Stop Belevin‘, Newton-John spoke of the one Grease scene that she believed ultimately set the tone for the romance between Danny and Sandy.
The moment took place during the televised National Dance Off.
Olivia writes: “It was electric. John threw me into the air and then tossed me between his legs. I can still feel it now – his hands on my waist and the rush of air sweeping through my hair. At that moment, everybody wanted to be that girl.”