"Oh Sandy..." - A Different Perspective on Grease!
Chris Peterson, OnStage Blog Founder
Sometimes when you revisit a musical with fresh eyes, you notice things that you may have missed the first time around. So without further ado, here is how Grease! changes when you look at it through the eyes of Sandy.
And I swear to God, this is what happens to her in both the film and the original stage version. We're going to focus more on the movie since most of you have seen that and can pull it up on Netflix for reference. But we'll be adding in references to the stage version which treats Sandy no less terrible. Here we go.
Sandy Olsson(or Dumbrowski) meets Danny Zuko on the beach during the summer before school starts. According to Sandy, they met when he ran by her on the beach and got her suit wet. After this first encounter, she starts spending a lot of time with Danny. She begins to do things she would never do with a boy, such as strolling while drinking lemonade, holding hands, and staying up till 10 o'clock.
But alas, the summer ends and Sandy must end her brief romance with her dream boy but not before making a vow of love to one another.
As the school year begins, Sandy's moving plans change and she starts her final school year at Rydell High. Coincidentally, the same school that Danny goes to, but she doesn't know that yet.
The first person she meets is Frenchie who introduces her to the Pink Ladies. At lunch, she describes her wonderful summer romance by describing her love as a gallant gentleman. What she doesn't know is that Danny Zuko is on the other side of the school describing the same encounter, the only difference is, he's depicting her as a tremendous slut (she "gets down" in the sand) who can't swim(Remember, she nearly drowned).
So just to recap, Danny is describing a girl, who happens to go to that school as a dock-side making-out harlot who will meet all of these guys within a matter of minutes. But instead of meeting them without judgment, they all think she's an incredible slut who might have a friend who's equally slutty as well. Shoo-bop-bop YEAH!
Later on that week, Sandy is tricked by Rizzo into "bumping" into Danny at a pep rally. Sandy is overjoyed to see her summer love, only to see him act dismissive of her to impress his friends by saying some of the dumbest lines like "You know how it is...rockin' and rollin" and "What's the matter with me? What's the matter with you?"
So in addition to having her heart break because the boy she loves acts like she means nothing to him, she has to endure his friends leering at her because Danny described her as a fantastically easy lay. If you don't believe me, just watch the way they look at her as Danny rips Sandy's heart out and stomps on it for the first of many times throughout this show.
In the stage version, this encounter is even worse because it happens basically the SAME SCHOOL DAY as "Summer Lovin". So this encounter basically translates to "Hey guys! Remember that amazingly easy girl I told you about just moments ago? Here she is!"
After Sandy runs off crying, Frenchie invites her over to her house for a slumber party where she is peer pressured into drinking, smoking, and piercing her ears. As she's recovering from a botched piercing job, her new "friends" decide to make fun of her by singing a song mocking the fact that she's not a smoker, drinker, and still a virgin. Keep in mind, they're doing this while SANDY IS IN THE ROOM NEXT DOOR HUNCHED OVER A TOILET AND BLEEDING FROM THE F**KING EAR!!!
To add insult to injury, Frenchie, the one person that has been the nicest to Sandy, gleefully joins in the song as well.
The stage version treats Sandy even worse. The song doesn't take place at a slumber party among a small group of girls. Instead, it takes place at a picnic at a park where both the girls and guys make fun of Sandy before she even arrives there. Upon arriving and hearing this, Sandy has her heart tbroken for the 2nd time in Act 1 and tells Danny she never wants to see him again. After she leaves, Danny could care less and proceeds to start a discussion about prom and leads the song "We Go Together". A Wop-Bop indeed.
Back to the film version, after Sandy sees her friends are making fun of her, she goes outside and sings what is, essentially at this point, a self-justification for staying with a guy who is emotionally abusing you:
"My head is saying, "Fool, forget him." My heart is saying, "Don't let go. Hold on till the end."And that's what I intend to do, I'm hopelessly devoted to you..."
Holy crap! With a thought process like that, what does Danny have to do to Sandy to make her finally say she's done with him? Attempt to rape her?.....Hang on....we're getting to that.
Later on, after Danny apologizes and embarrasses himself by trying out for sports(this is literally the nicest thing he does for Sandy in the movie), she finally agrees to go on a date with him. Only to have him once again, try to hide the fact that he's dating her from his friends.
Then comes the night of the big dance at school. Danny takes Sandy to be his date and partner for the televised dance contest. Things are going great when all of a sudden their dance is interrupted by a drunk Sonny and Danny's, ex-girlfriend(and apparently the best dancer at St. Bernadette's) "Cha-Cha" DiGregorio, cuts in. Rather than chase after Sandy, Danny continues to dirty dance with his EX-GF in front of Sandy before she runs from the gym crying.
The stage version doesn't even let Sandy go to the dance. Instead, she's at home listening to the dance on the radio. She finally musters the courage to go to the dance only to see Danny win the contest with Cha-Cha. He then completely ignores her which causes the domestic abuse rational anthem "Hopelessly Devoted to You."
Later on, Danny takes Sandy to the drive-in, how he got her to agree with this, I have no idea. But she's there. She's still mad about Cha-Cha but Danny's defense is "We didn't go together, we just went together".....what the hell does that mean?
Anyway, Danny, in order to smooth things over, offers his ring to Sandy. She is overjoyed upon seeing this and accepts it happily and says how much it means to her because now it shows he "really respects her". Upon hearing this, Danny takes this as a sign to "steal home" and basically forces himself onto Sandy which causes her to run away crying.
If you're keeping score, at this point Sandy has run away crying from the following locations:
The Pep Rally
After Sandy runs off to prevent herself from being date raped, Danny laments how much she's hurt him by singing lines like, " Stranded at the drive in, Branded a fool, What will they say Monday at school?"
I don't know Danny, what will they say when you tell them your girl ran off because she wouldn't let you force yourself on her? I would like to think they would say, "Danny you're a monster" but let's be honest, they'll probably just make fun of Sandy even more.
He also sings, "Sandy, can't you see? I'm in misery". How?!?!? How the f*** are you in misery Danny? You've literally been trampling on this girl's emotional stability for the entire school year!
After all this, Sandy decides that in order to make friends and get the guy of his dreams, she needs to transform herself into a smoking greaser chick.
What makes this decision even more disturbing is the dialog that precedes the change.
FRENCHIE: "What's the matter? Aren't you happy?"
SANDY: "No, not really, Frenchie, but I think I know a way I could be.
"Sandy, you must start anew,
Don't you know what you must do,
Hold your head high,
Take a deep breath and sigh,
Goodbye to Sandra Dee"
Good God that's dark.
After the last day of school, at the carnival, Sandy debuts her new look which finally makes her cool and hot enough for Danny to be head over heels for her. They sing about how she's finally the girl he wants and then they say goodbye to their friends as they fly away in a car.
Chang chang changitty chang sha-bop. That's the way it should be.
Now a couple of things about this, flying car excluded, there are a bunch of ridiculous things going on in this ending.
1. To win over, not only Danny but her friends as well, Sandy completely transforms herself. In return, Danny joins the track team and earns a letterman sweater, which he immediately ditches once he sees the new Sandy. So to recap, Sandy succumbs to social pressures and Danny becomes a jock and reforms himself in Sandy's eyes by taking off a sweater.
2. The most messed up element about this whole ending is that Sandy didn't have to change herself at all because Danny fell in love with the real Sandy on the beach at the beginning of the f****ing show! Sandy forcing herself to become a greaser chick for Danny is basically a 1950's version of getting breast implants to win back the affections of your man: unnecessary and confirms that the man you're with, is a complete utter asshole.
And yet, this is one of the most popularly performed shows among high schools in the entire country.
Now to be fair, a school-friendly version of the show was written. But that version only cuts out the smoking, drinking, Rizzo's pregnancy scare, and various obscenities within the script. And most high schools aren't even performing this version. This version is mainly performed by middle and elementary schools. If you don't believe me, just Youtube "Elementary School Grease Musical" and prepare yourself.
What's even worse is that none of these elements were re-considered when Fox produced Grease Live!, in the more socially conscious 2016. Instead of adjusting some of the storylines to prevent Sandy from being s**t on in the entire show, they basically just added more minority actors and did a carbon copy of the stage/movie versions. Some might defend this by saying that it's a period or nostalgia piece but none of that applies to the treatment that Sandy goes through. Poodle skirts and Greasers are nostalgia but slut-shaming and peer pressure are timeless and ever-present in today's teenage culture.
To be clear, I'm not saying that schools should stop producing Grease! altogether, but rather, take a serious look at the message being delivered here. With all the issues going on in social circles in high school, performing a piece where a character gets bullied into changing herself to please everyone else, isn't a great signal to be sending.