The show mentions social issues such as teenage pregnancy, peer pressure and gang violence; its themes include love, friendship, teenage rebellion, sexual exploration during adolescence, and, to some extent, class consciousness/class conflict. Jacobs described the show's basic plot as a subversion of common tropes of 1950s cinema, since the female lead, who in many 1950s films transformed the alpha male into a more sensitive and sympathetic character, is instead drawn into the man's influence and transforms into his fantasy.
(Because of changes to the musical that have been made since the 1978 film, several variants exist. In the event two songs are listed at any given point, the first is from the 1972 Off-Broadway version, and the second is from revivals that use the film music, such as the 2007 version.)
Act I Edit
In revivals that use the 1978 song "Grease," it is typically inserted at or near the beginning of the show.
The musical begins with all of the cast coming to school and getting ready in Rydell High School Class of 1959 reunion headed by old maid English teacher, Miss Lynch, who sings with Patty and Eugene the school anthem ("Alma Mater"). She welcomes former cheerleader/yearbook-editor Patty Simcox Honeywell and class valedictorian Eugene Florczyk. Eugene gives a rousing speech, mentioning that the alumni who are missing from the reunion are surely present in-spirit. Suddenly, the greaser gang known as the Burger Palace Boys (known in later versions of the production as the "T-Birds") and their auxiliary, the "Pink Ladies", appear and recite their own parody of the Rydell anthem ("Alma Mater (Parody)").
The scene fades into Rydell High's first day of the new school year. The Pink Ladies sit in the lunchroom, and the Burger Palace Boys sit at the entrance to the school. There is a new girl at school, Sandy Dumbrowski, who had been unjustly rejected from a Catholic school. She describes to the Pink Ladies (Frenchy, Marty, Jan and Rizzo) how she had a brief love affair the summer before, which ended with unresolved love. In describing the fling, Sandy focuses on the romance, while Danny exaggerates to the other Burger Palace Boys (Kenickie, Roger, Doody and Sonny) regarding the physical aspects of their relationship ("Summer Nights").
The Pink Ladies soon after realize that Sandy's summer fling was the same Danny Zuko that attends Rydell High and arrange for the two to bump into each other at school; the resulting meeting is tense and awkward, as Danny had previously told Sandy that he attended a private academy and does not want to admit to the Burger Palace Boys that she was the woman he was talking about. As the Burger Palace Boys leave, Sandy is heartbroken, but the Pink Ladies calm her down and invite her over to Marty's pajama party. Shortly afterwards, the teenagers gather in the hall as Doody shows off his new guitar. The rock star wannabe gives an impromptu concert in the hall ("Those Magic Changes").
At Marty's pajama party, the girls experiment with wine, cigarettes, and pierced ears; and talk about boys. Sandy goes into shock from seeing blood when the Pink Ladies try to pierce her ears, leading them to mock her when she's not in the room (in some revivals, the song "Look at Me, I'm Sandra Dee" is placed here, mirroring the film). Marty tells about her long-distance courtship with a Marine named Freddy, which it implied she only maintains because of the lavish gifts he sends her from Japan ("Freddy, My Love"). That same night, the Burger Palace Boys are busy stealing hubcaps and teasing Kenickie about his "new" used car, Greased Lightning. An unfazed Kenickie firmly believes that with some upgrades, the car will be a racing-worthy chick magnet ("Greased Lightnin'").
Danny sees Sandy again at her cheerleader practice, and tries to apologize for his behavior. Head cheerleader Patty Simcox interrupts and flirts with Danny. Patty informs Danny that track try-outs are nearing, and Danny tells Sandy that he will join the track team to prove that he is sophisticated. After Danny leaves, Patty and Sandy practice their cheer choreography ("Rydell Fight Song").
The Burger Palace Boys and Pink Ladies take their newfangled portable radios for a picnic in the park. Danny reveals to the rest of the greasers that he has joined the track team, much to their dismay and skepticism. After Roger and Jan bicker about food, drink and religion, she asks him how he earned the nickname Rump; he explains that, as "King of the Mooners," he has a hobby of baring his backside to unsuspecting victims, and in the process, both reveal their affections for each other ("Mooning"). Rizzo teases Danny for falling for a girl who resembles the excessively proper teenage ingénue, Sandra Dee, and the other greasers join in as she makes fun of Sandy, who has not arrived to the picnic yet ("Look at Me, I'm Sandra Dee" was originally at this point).
Sandy, working on a biology assignment with Eugene, comes in just as the greasers finish making fun of her, attacks Rizzo in a fit of rage and erroneously assumes Danny is the one behind the mockery. Furious, she tells Danny that she wishes she never met him and storms out of the picnic. Danny shrugs off Sandy's negative response, and the greasers pair off for the upcoming sock hop. Danny teases Marty for not having a date (recommending Eugene), and the greasers all laugh, declaring that they will be friends no matter what ("We Go Together").
For revivals that use "Hopelessly Devoted to You," the exact placement varies. It sometimes replaces the first rendition of "We Go Together" and in other examples, such as the 2007 revival, it is placed early in Act II.
Act II Edit
It is the night of the school dance where everyone is having fun dancing in the gym ("Shakin' At the High School Hop"). Sandy is at home by herself, listening to the radio and crying over how much she misses Danny ("It's Raining on Prom Night"). But in the school version, the 2 songs were set differently.
Meanwhile, Kenickie comes into the dance with his date, Cha-Cha DiGregorio, a beastly girl from Saint Bernadette's Academy. Kenickie dumps his date Cha-Cha and pairs off with Rizzo, whom Danny entered the dance contest with, leaving Danny with Cha-Cha. The MC Vince Fontaine, a radio disc jockey, begins the hand jive dance contest, and everyone eagerly participates as he tags the contestants out ("Born to Hand Jive"). In the end, Danny and Cha-Cha are the winners. Amongst the awards given to the couple, Danny receives two free drive-in movie tickets.
Sometime later outside of the Burger Palace hangout, Kenickie, Doody, and Sonny run into Frenchy. The boys are armed with an "arsenal" of household items and reveal that, to their surprise, Cha-Cha was the girlfriend of someone in the Burger Palace Boys' rival gang, the Flaming Dukes. Cha-Cha told the Flaming Dukes about how she danced with Danny, and, as a response, the Flaming Dukes challenged the Burger Palace Boys to a rumble. Danny sprints into the scene, wearing a track suit after having joined the Rydell track team, to the disapproval and confusion of the other Burger Palace boys. Danny turns down their urgent invitation to the Flaming Dukes rumble due to time conflicts with a track race, which he sprints off to.
The three remaining Burger Palace Boys go into the Burger Palace for a snack before the fight, and Frenchy laments at what to do with her life, having dropped out of beauty school in frustration at failing all of her classes. The heavenly Teen Angel appears with a chorus of back-up singing angels and tells her to return to high school ("Beauty School Dropout").
Shortly afterwards, the three Burger Palace Boys exit the Burger Palace. They wait for the Flaming Dukes, but the rival gang never turns up. The greasers realize that Roger is missing. Just as they decide to leave, Roger finally turns up with a car antenna as his weapon, and the greasers criticize him for showing up so late with such a pathetic excuse for a weapon. Roger challenges the three Burger Palace Boys, who proceed to run off with Roger's pants and shoes.
In the next scene, Danny and Sandy are in Greased Lightning, watching a drive-in movie. Danny tells Sandy how upset his buddies are at him, and how sorry he is for his companion's behavior during the picnic. After Danny offers Sandy his ring, he attempts to get intimate with her, but moves too fast, and she leaves. Danny misses Sandy, and wishes that they could be together again ("Alone at a Drive-In Movie" or "Sandy").
Several days later, Sandy and the greasers — without Danny — are having a party in Jan's basement as Doody, on guitar, performs alongside Roger ("Rock 'N' Roll Party Queen"). Rizzo, who missed her period, suspects she is pregnant and tells the Pink Ladies that the father is a stranger who had sex with her with a cheap, broken condom. The Burger Palace Boys offer support, which Rizzo rejects. Rizzo is left alone with Sandy, who questions Rizzo on why she rejected her friends and deduces that Kenickie was the presumptive father. Rizzo responds by saying that she is a better person than others make her out to be and that showing weakness is the worst thing she knows ("There Are Worse Things I Could Do"). Rizzo leaves, and Sandy decides what she needs to do to fit in with the greasers ("Look at Me, I'm Sandra Dee" (Reprise)).
The next day, the Burger Palace Boys are hanging out at the Burger Palace. Patty Simcox comes in, miserable and emotionally hurt. She tells them that Danny quit the track team and gave the finger to the coach. The Burger Palace Boys laugh and congratulate Danny, who returns. Sandy comes in alongside the Pink Ladies, having transformed herself into a greaser's dream date, punching out a dismayed Patty. Danny is delighted at this change and the couple express their mutual feelings for each other ("All Choked Up" or "You're the One That I Want").
Afterwards, the other Burger Palace Boys and Pink Ladies cheer for Danny and Sandy being together again. They happily invite Patty to watch The Mickey Mouse Club with them at Roger's house, and she agrees. Frenchy takes a job as a makeup saleswoman at Woolworth's, Rizzo reveals that she is not pregnant, and she and Kenickie reunite. All ends happily, and the Burger Palace Boys, the Pink Ladies, Sandy, and Patty sing about how they will always be friends to the end ("We Go Together" (Reprise)).
The 1972 Broadway production of Grease is talked about in the Broadway Podcast Network's Behind the Curtain - Broadway's Living Legends episode with Ilene Graff.