Whoosh! Issue 23 - August 1998


IAXS project #415
By Ed Baker
Copyright © 1998 held by author
1938 words

Xena, Meet Rizzo (01)
Which Xena? (02-04)
Betty Rizzo (05-06)
Leadership (07-08)
Gender Roles (09-12)
Man-ipulation (13-14)
Authority (15-18)
Contrasts (19-22)
Conclusion (23)

Rizzo And Xena: A Comparison

They wanted me to wear the costume in the play, too!

Using the XENA selling points.

Xena, Meet Rizzo

[1] It is a safe assumption that this article would never have been written had Lucy Lawless not played both the part of Xena in Xena: Warrior Princess, and Rizzo in the recent Broadway revival of Grease. There are similarities between these two characters that make Rizzo less of a departure from Xena than she might at first appear to be.

Which Xena?

[2] The first consideration in looking at these two characters is to decide exactly which Xena we are talking about. Are we discussing the Xena from THE WARRIOR PRINCESS (H09/109), the Xena from THE GAUNTLET (H12/113) and UNCHAINED HEART (H13/113), or the Xena we know best, the one with her own show? Certainly, the comparison could be made with any Xena, but the most similarities occur between Rizzo and "evil" Xena, most notably the woman we first meet in THE WARRIOR PRINCESS.

[3] This Xena is self-centered, self-confident, and sexually promiscuous, to say the least! She is the leader of a group of amoral warriors whose only goals are to plunder and pillage and, naturally, to follow their leader.

[4] She does not respect any of her followers, though she does keep them around to do her bidding. She manipulates them like pawns (witness the witless Theodorus), and she is not above pitting men against one another (i.e. Iolaus and Hercules) to accomplish her goals. Altogether, a pretty nasty package, albeit one with an attractive cover.

Betty Rizzo

[5] While Rizzo is not evil in any sense of the word, she is self-centered, and perhaps too self-confident. She also is sexually promiscuous. Although she is only shown dating Knickie, she says numerous times that she has slept around, and when she mentions that another man is the father of her potential child, there is no shock that she slept with someone else.

[6] Rizzo is also the leader of a band with slightly morally corrupt goals: smokin', drinkin', and, well, messin' around. She also, like Xena, stands head and shoulders (with the actor/dancers of the Broadway cast, quite literally) above the rest of the group. Like warlord Xena, Rizzo uses men (Danny) against other men (Knickie) to achieve her goals (reconciliation with Knickie). Rizzo is, as Lucy Lawless herself has said, a "bad *ss", but, like Xena, she is quite appealing to the eye.


[7] They exhibit similar leadership styles as well. Xena uses her knowledge and experience to humiliate her followers when they attack her in the opening of THE WARRIOR PRINCESS (H09/109). Her first word to them is, "Pathetic!" They come at her one by one, and she downs them with ease. Xena is better and faster than her men are, and she uses her skill to point out just how far her men have to go.

[8] Likewise, in the bathroom scene in Grease, Rizzo is the one who instructs Sandy how to smoke, drink, and belch. Rizzo clearly is the leader of the Pink Ladies and the most experienced with all the various vices in which they indulge. Rizzo puts all of the girls in their place at one time or another, picking on Frenchie because of her nickname, calling Marty a "toilet mouth", and singing an entire number to humiliate Sandy ("Look at Me, I'm Sandra Dee"). Like Xena, Rizzo is more 'seasoned' than the rest of the women, something she does not hesitate to use to her advantage in maintaining her leadership over them.

Gender Roles

This is what I meant when I said to put fun between your legs, Iolaus!

Xena, BA (Before Argo).

[9] Both good and evil Xena must prove they can 'stand with the boys', so to speak. With evil Xena, this is the first thing we learn about her. She makes her debut by beating the crap out of a bunch of her warriors, proving that she is equal, if not superior, to men. She leads an army of men, and her primary enemy (Hercules) is a man. Xena, at this early stage, is a woman who can stand on an equal footing in a world dominated by men.

[10] No such equality is possible in Grease. The men lead, and the women, for the most part, follow. The boys all ask the girls to the dance. The boys all chase after the girls. While these young ladies are not powerless, the men more or less run things.

[11] Not so with Rizzo. She stands equal to the men at every turn -- she asks Danny to the dance toward the end of the first half of the play (admittedly to strike a blow at Knickie, but still...). She is also the only woman who has a scene alone with the guys, namely, the number "Greased Lightning".

[12] The car in the Grease world is certainly the domain of the man, but Rizzo walks right in, makes fun of Knickie's 'dream car', and stands toe to toe with the boys. She even initiates the making out toward the end of the scene, proving that, in every way, she is as aggressive as any of the guys. Like Xena, and unlike the other Pink Ladies, she is an equal to men.


[13] Indeed, Xena has no trouble using men to her own ends. In THE WARRIOR PRINCESS (H09/109), she plays Iolaus like a fiddle, drawing him in with an act of vulnerability, then slowly revealing her stronger nature. He falls easily for this routine, believing all the while that Xena is fighting for a good cause. A mixture of the right words and a healthy amount of flesh combine to spin Iolaus' head so much that he ends up fighting against Hercules, his best friend. Fortunately, their friendship wins in the end, but Xena is quite easily able to achieve her goal of pitting them against one another.

[14] Rizzo does the same thing, but for far less sinister reasons. When she and Knickie have a falling out toward the end of the first half of the play, she asks Danny to go to the dance with her. The surprised look on Knickie's face betrays the fact that he is not happy with this, though, of course, he must act cool about it. Danny seems not to understand that Rizzo is using him to get at his best friend, and he goes along with her request. Though she ends up dumping Danny in the middle of the dance and returning to Knickie, the fact is that she was not above pitting male friends against one another to harm one of them. Her crime is the same as Xena's in intent, though with far, far lesser goals.


[15] Even the way they handle threats to their authority is similar. While neither Xena in THE WARRIOR PRINCESS (H09/109) nor Rizzo is very seriously challenged by any member of their group, both take the same basic path to resolve the issue.

[16] In THE WARRIOR PRINCESS (H09/109), the jealous lackey, Estragon, challenges Xena's plan. Estragon is in love, or at least in lust, with Xena, and he balks when Xena tells him, essentially, to wait his turn. He is not at all happy with the knowledge that Iolaus has access to the woman he wants. Xena promises him that he will get his 'rewards' from her if he can merely wait, and so he does. She uses the part of her that he wants (her sexuality) to remove him as a threat and brings him back under her control.

[17] With Rizzo this is a much more subtle, but the result is essentially the same. None of the Pink Ladies even tries to challenge Rizzo for leadership, but the newcomer, Sandy, unintentionally does. During the party scene, when the girls are introducing Sandy to their vices, Sandy takes a long, deep drink of wine. Everyone is surprised, but Rizzo has an added look of shock on her face. The fact that Sandy might be able to outdo her at one of the activities the girls indulge in is a challenge, though an unintentional one on Sandy's part.

[18] While Sandy does not directly defy Rizzo at any time during the play, she consistently irks the leader of the Pink Ladies with her purity ("Look at me, I'm Sandra Dee") and her compassion ("There are Worse Things I Could Do"). Nevertheless, in the end, Rizzo maintains control of the group by making Sandy a Pink Lady, complete with a form-fitting black velvet outfit. Sandy willingly turns to Rizzo for guidance ("you still got that lipstick handy?") as opposed to Xena's Estragon, who is brought to heel. Rizzo offers Sandy the part of her that Sandy needs (her experience) in order to keep her, in effect, in line. Again, this is a far less overt form of control than Xena employs, but the result, the preservation of the status of leadership, is the same.


I was gonna display a different finger!

A less XENA-esque poster.

[19] The main difference between the two characters comes in the ending. While Grease ends on a happy note, with everyone resolving their differences and almost all of the men and women pairing off, THE WARRIOR PRINCESS (H09/109) ends with Xena running away, ostensibly to return again one day.

[20] Rizzo finds a sort of redemption: Sandy embraces her as a friend, and embraces her way of life. She reunites with Knickie, and she is not guilty of the 'sin' of being pregnant. Her world turns out okay, despite the fact that she is more or less a 'bad girl'.

[21] Xena finds no such redemption (yet). She must forego her dreams of conquest and accept that Hercules has bested her. She does not atone for any of her sins, and is not even brought to justice. She runs off and, as we find out later, raises another army.

[22] Rizzo learns from her mistakes in the play, and is rewarded by having everything turn out fine. Xena does not learn from her mistakes in THE WARRIOR PRINCESS (H09/109), and so she must suffer some more [THE GAUNTLET (H12/112)] before she can begin to find the redemption that Rizzo gains.


[23] There are, of course, many reasons why Lucy Lawless chose to play Rizzo during her Xena hiatus, from her desire to stretch herself as an actress to, in her words, "us[e] it as therapy to get over my fear of singing in public". It is doubtful that she saw the character as similar to Xena, but it is interesting that she should choose a character not all that dissimilar from the roots of the character which she has become so famous for playing.


Ed Baker Ed Baker
Ed Baker is a double major (English/History) from the University of Virginia. He graduated in 1987 and has spent the last ten years trying to find a job other than teaching in which he can use his skills. When he's not watching/talking about/writing fanfic about/obsessing over Xena, he's either doing pretty much the same with Star Trek, burying his nose in a book (of nearly any type), rooting for the Chicago Bulls, or trying to find the newest hard-to-get action figure. He also edits an off-line fanzine, Warrior Princess Press.
Favorite episode: DESTINY (36/212)
Favorite line: Xena, to Joxer, about Meg: "She'll be the victim of a lot more circumstances when I get my hands on her." WARRIOR...PRINCESS...TRAMP (30/206)
First episode seen: A FISTFUL OF DINARS (14/114)
Least favorite episode: USELESSES (43/219)

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