Olivia Newton-John became a movie star — and icon to young girls everywhere — when she played Sandy in 1978’s big-screen version of Grease. Almost four decades later, the Australian actress-singer hasn’t left the show that far behind: In fact, the Grammy winner performs some of the hits — including “Hopelessly Devoted to You,” “You’re The One That I Want” and “Summer Nights” — from the blockbuster film at Flamingo Las Vegas with her “Summer Nights” residency.
Newton-John recently spoke to Billboard about why Grease is still “magical,” how it gave her the courage to branch out in her own career and the advice she gave to the new generation Sandy — Julianne Hough — before starring in Fox’s Grease: Live, which airs Jan. 31 at 7 p.m. ET on Fox.
Grease just won’t go away. Why do people still love it?
Gosh, I wish I did know! There’s an energy and a timelessness to the music. Gosh, I don’t know. It’s magical! There’s something about the boy-meets-girl of the whole story. Everyone knows a character like that. People love the ’50s too.
There’s always been a nostalgic kick to it, right?
And it’s not just nostalgic for my age group. Now after four or five generations, it’s nostalgic for everyone, for five generations.
When you perform Grease songs at your “Summer Nights” show in Vegas, what do fans say to you?
Oh, “I watched that movie a thousand times!” “I watched it with my kids and now I watch it with my grandchildren…” “It makes me smile.” It’s such a fun movie, a lot of people say, “Whenever I want to smile, I put it on.”
Grease has been one of the most-produced musicals in American high schools for four decades. It’s the first musical a lot of kids perform.
That makes me so happy. I used to stand in front of a mirror with my hairbrush. I’m glad they’ll be able to see these successful singers in the new show. And I’m so grateful to be a part of something that’s great.
Those hot pants at the end of Grease really changed your reputation.
Ha! I call her “Sandy Two.” Gosh, she gave me the opportunity to change. I was kind of thought of as the girl next door — country music and all that stuff. Being able to play another role gave me the courage to branch out more and do more rock stuff, which was not what I was known for. It gave me the courage to grow and do different things.
So, without Sandy Two, you might never have sung “Physical.”
It’s so funny. In my show I say, “Can you believe Grease was banned? Compared to what’s on the radio now?” That’s was considered naughty then.
Listening to it again, I’d forgotten how much sexual innuendo there was.
It seems to go over the heads of little kids.
I heard you were going to auction off that Sandy Two outfit.
At some point, I am going to do it for my women’s cancer center that bears my name in Melbourne Australia. I’ll sell the jacket and the pants to the highest bidder. You know, I should have started a line. I was behind the times…
But you did start a trend.
Yes, it really started a trend! But those pants that I wore in the movie were from the 50’s. They were relics, made of sharkskin or something. Pretty hip.
You perform all over the world. Has the response to Grease around the globe surprised you?
Oh, there are fans all over the world: Japan, South America, the Philippines, Oman, everywhere. It’s quite incredible. It’s enhanced by career. There was basically my musical career before and after. Fans all over the world.
Any advice for Julianne Hough, who’s stepping into your hot pants in Grease: Live?
I think Julianne is fine. I love her. She’s beautiful and she’s talented and she’ll do a great job. She doesn’t need any tips from me. She has her own energy and I think that’s what I said to her: “Bring yourself to it. There’s no reason to try and copy anyone else. You’ve got your own style so do it in a new way.”