What Will Grease: Live Actually Look Like?
The Rydell High gang’s all here—and they’re just as stylish as we remember them.
Sandy, Danny, the T-Birds, and the Pink Ladies will be taking over your TV screen when Grease: Live premieres on Sunday, Jan. 31. Based on the classic 1978 film about a group of high school kids in the ‘50s, FOX’s first-ever live musical stars Julianne Hough, Aaron Tveit, Vanessa Hudgens, and Keke Palmer as the iconic leather-loving teens. But don’t expect them to look exactly like the characters from the original Grease. This time, there's more leather, tons of wigs, and a blonde Danny Zuko.
“We are doing an homage to Grease, but this is our own version,” costume designer William Ivey Long, who's best known for his work on Broadway, told InStyle when we caught up with him last week. “There are three or four looks that are very similar to the original, but that’s where it stops.” So while you’ll see Sandy in an all-black look “just like the one that Albert Wolsey designed for the film,” and staples like T-Bird leather jackets and Pink Lady jackets, they’ve all had a modern update. “I redesigned them, so they’re not going to be exactly the same,” said Long. One thing that is staying the same? “The school colors are still red and white!”
Long gave us the scoop on what went into creating these characters for a new generation. Hear what he has to say about creating Sandy's look in the video below, and scroll down to see his original sketches for the characters, plus details about each look.
When choosing outfits for Sandy (Julianne Hough), Long made sure that her wardrobe accurately represented her evolution from innocent good girl to sexy bombshell in the story. “Julianne wears about eight different dresses over the eight days of the story, and then of course she has her final [all-black] look,” said Long. “The trickiest part was actually getting ‘Good Sandy’ right. That’s when she wears flats, big puffy skirts, sweet Peter Pan collars, and pastel colors.”
Finding the right pieces may have been a challenge, but it was easy for Hough to pull off a sweeter look. “Julianne plays simple and demure so well that we decided to go even more simple and demure—especially because we know there’s going to be a pay off at the end of the show when she gets to knock ‘em dead,” said Long. Plus, “Sandy is really the story, because she’s the one who changes. It’s her arc and development that are so important.”
Sandy’s transformation may be the focus, but “this is also Rizzo’s story,” said Long. Vanessa Hudgens was more than ready to take on the role of the Pink Ladies’ tough leader—and don’t expect to be reminded of the last time we saw her as a singing high schooler onscreen. “Shall we say this is totally different from High School Musical?” joked Long. “It’s completely opposite, and I think that is probably what attracted her to the role.”
To get Rizzo’s look just right, Long started at the top—and he channeled the first actress who played the part. “We really wanted to get that curly Stockard Channing hair,” he said. “The wig lady came to my very first fitting with Vanessa, and she just embraced the wig as soon as she put it on.” Hudgens also embraced the wardrobe to match her character’s short ’do. “We discovered that Vanessa can really rock a pencil skirt—they look fantastic on her,” said Long. “She’s just really been enjoying the whole process.”
When it came to dressing KeKe Palmer as Marty, one of the Pink Ladies, Long knew that the star would be game for anything. “KeKe is, in fact, fearless,” he said, adding that Palmer’s rendition of the song “Freddy My Love” during the pajama party scene “is going to be very interesting.” (The song was performed in the Broadway show, but not the movie.)
“She’s bragging about having a boyfriend in the Korean War, who gave her a red kimono that has a dragon on it,” said Long. “She puts it on over her turquoise baby doll—which looks great on KeKe’s skin—and then starts singing into her hairbrush.” As she begins to sing, Palmer “drops the kimono and baby doll, and down falls this beautiful red beaded gown,” said Long. At the end of the song, “instead of breaking for commercial, we show her miraculously dropping the red dress and underneath is an identical baby doll—so she looks just the same as before.” The magic is simple: “A few years ago we started discovering magnets,” said Long. “They have five different intensities and the trick is knowing how to sew them in at which intensity. They’re the new secret weapon.”
“Our Danny Zuko is dirty blonde, unlike John Travolta, who was so very dark haired [in the original],” said Long. “We talked about darkening [Aaron Tveit’s] hair, but that never looks right. Plus, he’s got good hair—it’s nice and long and he can make a really big pompadour out of it, which is great.”
Tveit’s blonde locks have even taken the role in a new direction of sorts. “We have a very iconic James Dean-type Danny Zuko,” said Long. “James Dean was dark blonde, and Aaron is really channeling him with the look and the smile. He’s been working on that, and he makes a great James-Dean-as-Danny-Zuko.”
For the rest of the guys, it was important to keep things as modern as possible—especially when it came to the fit. “We have stretch fabrics now that we didn’t have back in the ‘70s when they did the movie, and certainly not in the ‘50s when it took place," said Long. "So we're able to make things move better.” That meant cutting down on the Greasers’ signature bulky staples. “Real motorcycle jackets are stiff and heavy, but we wanted something more sleek and tighter-fitting,” said Long. “And I’m not putting the boys in dungarees—which we called Levi’s back then—because they were really full and baggy. Instead, we found the highest-rise blue jeans on the market, so the fit looks more modern.’”
The outfits are a bit flashier, too. “We’ve really jazzed up ‘Greased Lightnin’,’” said Long. “The guys start out covered in oil and grease, and then Danny comes in and starts singing. They all get involved and you see them change magically into these dream uniforms, which are shimmery with bright blue and silver racing stripes made of techno-fabric. Then, after the big number is over, they miraculously turn back into their oil-stained coveralls.”
The Rest of the Looks
Not all of the guys will be down in the dirt. Mario Lopez plays radio announcer Vince Fontaine at the school dance, and he looks sharp as ever. “Mario is in this beautiful, vintage, shark-skinned suit with a white shirt and skinny black tie,” said Long. “It looks like it was made for him, and it fits him skintight.” Lopez nailed not only the look, but the script. “His first rehearsal was word-perfect off the book,” said Long.
Lopez’s outfit isn’t the only authentically vintage piece. “I’ve been making things out of 1950s fabric that I found, and using as much vintage as I can,” said Long. “For the dance, we had to make the dresses because of the athletic choreography in the hand jive dance explosion. You’re going to see full dresses and the dancers are thrown all around—it is wild. As the couples dance, you’ll see wonderful colors moving by fast—I call them Life Saver colors, because they’re like the very specific colors that are in Life Saver candies.”