Arts / Sandy and Danny come back to the arena

“Grease”… the arena experience at Bruce, October 12-14. Photo Credit Glenn Pokorny
“GREASE” will be the word at the AIS Arena when the popular musical hits Canberra soon. This showstopper about a girl who learns how to fit in, coincides with the opening of the peer-group-pressure musical, “Heathers”, which opens on the same night. Both deal with teenage angst in an entertaining way but “Grease,” the Broadway musical made famous by the movie starring Olivia Newton-John and John Travolta, sets the gold standard in the genre. Now Harvest Rain, a young theatre company from Brisbane, is touring this show with a core of 15 professional actors while also engaging hundreds of school children wherever they go to make up a publicised cast of 400 performers. They’ll sing in the big numbers such as “Grease” (Is the Word), “Greased Lightning”, “You’re the One that I Want” and “Born to Hand Jive”. Ashleigh Taylor gets to play the coveted role of Sandy, the girl from Australia (the script never spells that out, but you can tell by the accent) who comes to the fictional Rydell High School circa 1959 and falls for the smooth Danny.

Ashleigh Taylor… as Sandy.

She gets in with the cool crowd, the Pink Ladies, but finds out that they’re not all that cool, with the raunchy Rizzo facing an unwanted pregnancy and “beauty school dropout” Frenchy trying to work out her future. A fairy god person appears to cast wise advice around and it all ends happily. Taylor has trained in musical theatre at the Brent Street Studios in Sydney and has a swag of star roles to her name including Elphaba in “Wicked.” So far she’s been with the show to Brisbane, Sydney, Melbourne, Adelaide, Brisbane again and next Canberra then Perth, with substantial breaks in between shows, during which she’s been writing her boutique musical called “The Life of Us”. She enjoys the input of the children who perform, saying that “it gives it energy and keeps it from going stale”. Taylor is trying to find a balance between playing in the Olivia Newton-John style audiences want and her own version of Sandy. “You have to bring yourself to it and determine your own flavour, but it’s difficult to play somebody as iconic as Sandy,” she says. “Olivia Newton-John and John Travolta had the most massive chemistry between them, so I try not to focus too much on that and rather follow the journey of the character.”

Christine Anu as Teenangel

  Sandy, she says, starts out as wholesome and ends up “edgy, glamorous and ‘Rizzofied’ – it’s fun, I live for that moment at the end with the big hair and the red lips”. But Danny, she says, comes halfway to meet Sandy’s needs, a point she and Tom Lacey, playing the role, have been keen to highlight. As well, the “beautiful relationship” between Sandy and Rizzo is far more evident in the musical. Taylor likes the fact that the “Teen Angel” in this iteration is played by Christine Anu, though it’s normally played by a bloke. “Grease the Arena Experience”, AIS Indoor Arena, Bruce, October 12-14. Bookings to ticketek.com.au

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