Grease: Rise of the Pink Ladies (2023)


Unlike Trystan, I saw the musical film Grease (1978) way back in the day and have loved it ever since. I wanted to write a rebuttal to her snark, but honestly all I could say is “nostalgia” and “catchy songs.” True story: I put on a production of Grease in my living room around age 10 with friends, and I played the dual role of Rizzo and Cha Cha. I always wanted to be a bad girl! Anyway, so when the TV series/prequel Grease: Rise of the Pink Ladies (2023) came around on Paramount+, I happily took one for the team, only to end up saying “meh.”

The story takes place in 1954 (four years before Grease is set) and tells the story of four girls who create the “Pink Ladies” girl gang. I was hoping for younger Rizzo, but no dice: the focal character is Jane Facciano, who moved to “Rydell High” last year and started dating jock Buddy Aldridge … but when the two are spotted doing “everything but” at the drive-in, Jane gets slut-shamed. In response, she decides to run for student president against Buddy, rallying other misfits to “make Rydell fun for everyone.” As she does, she struggles with her mixed Italian-Puerto Rican heritage.

2023 Grease Rise of the Pink Ladies

Jane (second from left) is brainy and actually a good girl, but gets a bad reputation and is hung out to dry.

Jane hooks up with three other girls: Olivia Valdovinos was discovered last year to be having an affair with a teacher. He blamed it on her, and she’s now considered a slut too, which she starts embracing by dressing sexy — despite being super smart and wanting to go to college.

2023 Grease Rise of the Pink Ladies

Olivia dresses like fellow bad girl Rizzo (from the film version).

Cynthia Znudowski would be considered genderqueer today, but is a tomboy in the 1950s and the show. All she wants is to join the T-Birds guy gang and work on cars with the guys, but she’s disappointed when they refuse to admit a “girl.” She’s played by trans actress Ari Notartomaso, which is pretty cool!

2023 Grease Rise of the Pink Ladies

Cynthia (far right) has short hair and wears as masculine of clothing as she can get away with for the 1950s.

The final member of the eventual Pink Ladies is Nancy Nakagawa. She wants to be a fashion designer and has some funny lines related to fashion and sewing. She also thinks boys are stupid and gets dropped by her longtime best friends as a result.

Grease: Rise of the Pink Ladies

Nancy is an aspiring fashion designer, so her clothing is comparatively interesting, like the fabric rosette on her sweater that connects to the LOBSTER on her skirt (Schiaparelli reference?) | Photo Credit: Eduardo Araquel/Paramount+

When Jane announces she’s running for president and makes a speech about all the people who feel left out, the four girls find each other and start rebelling — and eventually become the official Pink Ladies.

2023 Grease Rise of the Pink Ladies

The official Pink Ladies jackets | Photo Credit: Eduardo Araquel/Paramount+

Overall, the costumes are strong and very 1950s. Costume designer Angelina Kekich, who designed the costumes along with Samantha Hawkins, told,

“I really wanted to continue on the direction that Albert [Wolsky, designer of Grease (1978)] had taken in the original 1978 film, and bring that into Rise of the Pink Ladies. As I like to say, I wanted to put my own kind of dazzle or shimmer to it for the 21st century.”

The interviewer points out that the original Grease was a 1970s take on the 1950s, so this production followed suit by aiming for a modern take on the period. Kekich said,

“We modernized it by the fabrics that we used, because we definitely can’t go back in time and get those fabrics. And, of course, we’re dealing with dance, acting, and musical numbers, with triple threat actors. That requires new ways of designing costumes that are tailored to what the cast needs in their dance sequences, their acting, and singing … Also, our work included modernizing the silhouettes, changing things up a little bit, and tailoring them differently.”

One example of how they did that was with the character Olivia’s pencil skirts:

“We used fabrics that had a four-way stretch to them. They definitely had a period feel, but it also allowed her to jump on the tables and jump on the beds.”

2023 Grease Rise of the Pink Ladies

Olivia (right) in as much of a pencil skirt as I can find a pic of, other than what’s above.

The costumes also tell a lot about character, of course:

2023 Grease Rise of the Pink Ladies

Hazel is very bookish and shy, and she’s all buttoned up here in plaid.

2023 Grease Rise of the Pink Ladies

The popular kids wear very mainstream fashions | Photo Credit: Eduardo Araquel/Paramount+

2023 Grease Rise of the Pink Ladies

The T-Birds dress in the same leather jackets and denim worn in the Grease film.

2023 Grease Rise of the Pink Ladies

The fabrics and cuts are great! Love Olivia’s atomic print and the contrast collar/buttons on Cynthia | Photo Credit: Eduardo Araquel/Paramount+

The main problem I had with the series was the storyline and music. While Jane starts dating greaser Richie, it’s less of a focus than in the movie story; instead, things are more about cliques and outcasts. Which is great, let’s not make every story a romance!

2023 Grease Rise of the Pink Ladies

Richie (far left) was super cute until he started singing a dumb “musical” song with Jane.

But after a few episodes, having Jane continue to stress about becoming student president got boring. Things were made worse by the music, which — although I’ve never seen/heard it — felt very High School Musical. No, the original show/film doesn’t have 1950s-style music either, but this was just your Standard Musical Theater songs about things like “the new cool” and Jane wanting “more.” I made it through about episode 4 before my interest had waned enough to switch shows, and I was needing binge material for sewing background, so that’s saying something that I was bored enough I turned it off. I’m not saying it’s terrible! But it didn’t have the nostalgic charm of the original film, and the music was waaaaay less catchy.

2023 Grease Rise of the Pink Ladies

Okay, there was genius casting with Jackie Hoffman as now-assistant principal McGee (played by Eve Arden in the film).


Have you seen Grease: Rise of the Pink Ladies? What did you think?


About the author



Kendra has been a fixture in the online costuming world since the late 1990s. Her website, Démodé Couture, is one of the most well-known online resources for historical costumers. In the summer of 2014, she published a book on 18th-century wig and hair styling. Kendra is a librarian at a university, specializing in history and fashion. She’s also an academic, with several articles on fashion history published in research journals.

6 Responses

  1. Brandy Loutherback

    This show seems to be setting up love triangle shenanigans with Jane/Buddy/ Ritchie, Just ugh! I’m way more team bad girl with pencil skirts and skin tight sweaters. I’m liking the more overt messages of female solidarity, way more than the silly teeny bopper romances! Am I terrible?

  2. Kat

    I wanted to like it but I read another article that made the point that it should have been a sequel to the films rather than a prequel – because otherwise Rydell somehow goes from being a relatively diverse school to a completely lily white one in the span of five years or less – and I’m inclined to agree. Additionally I know ‘tee hee obvious adults playing teens’ was a trope of the first two but I wish they had actually cast younger actors, instead of going the same route of very obvious twentysomethings playing 16 year olds.

    • Lily Lotus Rose

      To your point about the age of the cast members, Kat, I totally agree. For all sorts of reasons twentysomethings are cast as teens and we just roll with it. It depends on my mood and the storyline the degree to which I can “roll with it” from film to film. But after working in a high school and being up close with teens, at this point in my life it really strains belief for me to buy someone a decade older as a high school student. I haven’t even seen Pink Ladies yet, but as soon as I saw the female cast members, my mind screamed 25+!!! The guys don’t look so bad by comparison because they all have babyfaces and don’t look anything like men; they look like guys, whereas the female cast looks like women. Anyway, I’m still undecided about whether to watch this one.

  3. Roxana

    Do school gangs and cliques really last for years as kids graduate and move on? I doubt it.

  4. Roxana

    And at least this version has a better message than girls should be sluts and boys slackers. And both should go at it like rabbits In High School!!!!


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