Gretel Scarlett has been a little in love with Sandy since she was eight years old – and now the young Australian performer has stepped into the oh-so-high heels once filled by Olivia Newton-John.
Scarlett (who has previously performed in Mamma Mia! and Wicked the Musical) plays the holidaying good girl who falls for greaser Danny Zuko in the touring musical Grease is the Word, part of a heavyweight cast that includes Rob Mills (Danny), John Paul Young, Todd McKenney, Bert Newton and Val Lehmann.
Ahead of the show’s opening in Adelaide next month, she talks to InDaily about the enduring popularity of Grease, what it’s been like following in the footsteps of Newton-John, her own experience as a real-life Sandy, and why you must see the production dubbed “the number-one party musical”.
The original Grease movie came out well before you were even born – when was the first time you saw the film and what impression did it make?
My first experience of Grease was at around eight years old. Funnily enough, I loved Sandy. It was the music and dance sequences that really grabbed my attention. I would record “You’re the One That I Want” on VCR and rewind and fast forward to learn what Sandy and Danny did at the funhouse, then I would re-create it at the showgrounds when the show came to town. A lot of the movie went completely over my head, but I loved it for what it was.
Why do you think the production still strikes a chord with Australian audiences today, even though the story is set in a ’50s American high school, with the original musical and film made in the ’70s?
It has to be the music. Everyone knows the songs and it’s almost a trip down memory lane with the school cafeteria and bleachers setting. We also all know people who are like these characters in Grease.
But the thing about this particular version of the musical is that you get the best of both the movie and the original musical. You have the raw and gritty schoolkids with a lot more attitude, and then you have the songs from the movie which were never written for the stage show. So we are very lucky to be able to create a sort of hybrid of both.
You’re playing a role made famous by Olivia Newton-John. What has it been like following in those footsteps – or rather, stepping into those heels?
The red stilettos were the easiest part! It’s rather difficult to have to re-create someone so iconic, so the comparisons are inevitable. Just like Rob Mills is compared to John Travolta. But it’s been a lot of fun playing Sandy and finding my own footwork with her.
Of course, Olivia will always be the most iconic movie version of Sandy, and what she did with the role was very inspiring to Australian females and even put Australia on the map. I’m very grateful to have been chosen to follow in her footsteps. It’s a big challenge and I’m glad the Australian and UK producers chose me to be the one to handle it.
You get to work with several other Australian entertainment icons, including John Paul Young, Bert Newton, Todd McKenney and Val Lehman. How have you found that experience?
It’s an absolute joy to get to work on stage with these Australian icons. They all bring a different energy to the workplace and so much history. They are all extremely professional and it’s nice to witness how people like Bert Newton and Todd McKenney juggle their personal, social and work life. They are a real inspiration to me.
Sandy starts off as a rather innocent, naïve and unconfident “nice” girl who, true to stereotype, falls for the bad boy. Is she a product of her era or do teenagers like Sandy still exist?
I think that’s the thing with Grease; the characters all represent someone different and someone we can all relate to. You have your Rizzos, Jans, Kenickis, Dannys and Sandys. There’s a place for everyone in life and I think that’s what makes these characters so relatable.
Sandy wasn’t just a product of the 1950s. I bring a little more confidence to Sandy, which was the original way she was written. She’s struggling to fit in, but she’s a very intelligent girl who can hold a real conversation.
Growing up, I was a real-life Sandy … there’s nothing wrong with that. I was the good girl. Straight As. Didn’t go out. Didn’t drink. Always did my homework. Never stayed out late.
It’s lovely to meet girls at the stage door who can identify with Sandy.
Tell us in one sentence why Adelaide audiences shouldn’t miss Grease is the Word?
It’s the ultimate party musical with lots of singing, dancing, poodle skirts, leather jackets, amazing songs and one tight black outfit!
Grease is the Word is playing at the Festival Theatre, Adelaide Festival Centre, from August 3.
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