In the late 1970s, the film adaptation of the stage musical Grease created an international sensation with stars Olivia Newton-John and John Travolta becoming the definitive high school sweethearts. Songs from the film were hits in their own right and both the music and the show have endured all these years.
Grease is the simple story of two teenagers in the 1950s who fall in love over the summer holidays only to find themselves attending the same school soon after, but sitting on opposite sides of ‘cool’.
Now, Grease gets a whole new groove as an all-new stage production tours the country and moves like greased lightnin’ towards Adelaide. The show’s star, Gretel Scarlett, takes on her first leading role as the iconic sweetheart, Sandy, and revealed to Glam Adelaide that, like many Gen X and Gen Y Aussies, she first fell in love the musical when watching Saturday morning music video shows.
“They would put on the [Grease] mega-mix, which stayed in the Top 10 for ages back in the 1990s. I only knew Grease for the music back then,” she said.
Scarlett’s casting was based upon the original 1972 stage character. Scarlett explains, “Sandy is a little tougher in the [stage] musical version, because she was based more on a Catholic girl, rather than an innocent Australian. She grew up in Chicago and had some attitude and an American accent.”
The comparisons between Scarlett and Olivia Newton-John are constant and were a challenge to begin with but she takes the comparisons with dignity and has proudly created a character who is familiar enough, but also her own.
“I didn’t realise the amount of pressure to be Newton-John (not Sandy). I think there is a lot more weight on this role when performing in Australia! I bring a different vocal quality to the role and a little bit more strength. This Sandy comes across as much more intelligent and self-aware, where we felt the film character was a little naïve.”
Scarlett describes her on stage beau, Rob Mills as “the ultimate leading male. He isn’t star-cast – he has this beautiful balance of charisma and guts for this role.”
Then there’s Bert Newton who, in an art-imitating-life scenario, plays the role of TV host Vince Fontaine. Scarlett admires Newton’s love of musical theatre and his warmth and professionalism on set.
“He is open to anyone who walks past with a story and the football scores!”
In another stroke of casting genius, popular Todd McKenney plays the Teen Angel.
“He has his little cameo role in this production that steals the show. He is a show pony, as is his character,” explains Scarlett.
Adding to the celebrity mix is 70s/80s singing sensation John Paul Young, who joined the cast in Perth to belt out hits like Hand Jive in the role of Johnny Casino.
Performing eight shows each week would be enough for most people but Scarlett is also in the final production stages of her new album which features covers of old scores from the Rolling Stones, Queen and Carole King, to name a few.
“I have a fan base of young kids and I respect them all for where they are at, but I don’t think they have often had exposure to this music. I want to give it back to the world in a 2014 way, as a tribute to the people who really created the music scene for us all.”
Scarlett’s album is due for release before the end of the year but before then, Grease is the word from 3 August 2014 at the Festival Theatre.
Interviewed by Bree Downs-Woolley
Venue: Festival Theatre, Adelaide Festival Centre
Season: 3 – 31 August 2014
Duration: 2 hrs 20 mins (including interval)
Tickets: $64.90 – $119.90
Bookings: Book through BASS online or phone 131 246