If you read my column with any regularity, you likely know that I have a lot of theatre crushes and I have a lot of shows that I simply adore. Well, this latest edition of my recurring interview feature, Rapid Fire 20 Q is chocked full of both…folks I love and one of my true all-time favorite musical, Grease! Yes, I have forty year old photos of a pre-teen me sporting a “Bad Sandy” t-shirt and still more photos of me grinning from ear-to-ear while holding my Grease birthday cake…no, NOT the oily ingredient, the 1978 film’s logo. So sit back, and enjoy the latest proof that Grease is STILL the word as I chat with stars of Studio Tenn’s Grease, opening at Jamison Hall in The Factory at Franklin Thursday, May 10 and running through Sunday, May 27.
RAPID FIRE 20 Q WITH MEMBERS OF THE CAST OF STUDIO TENN’s GREASE, AT JAMISON HALL THRU MAY 27
RAPID FIRE WITH DIANA DeGARMO, SANDY IN STUDIO TENN’S GREASE
JP: Having had the pleasure of chatting with you during your National Tours as Doralee in 9 to 5 and as the Narrator in Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, I guess it’s no secret that you’re one of my theatre crushes. Now you’re playing Sandy in Studio Tenn’s Grease, a character who was definitely among my childhood crushes! So, let’s get right into it…Sweet Sandy or Bad Sandy…which is more like Diana in real life?
DIANA DeGARMO: Both! I like to live my life with sugar AND spice. I’m a gemini so I know my manners, but don’t step on my toes!
JP: Speaking of real life, in Grease, you’re sharing the stage with your real-life husband, Ace Young, who’s cast as Danny. The two of you have worked together professionally a few times. If memory serves me, in addition to your shared American Idol past—same show, different seasons—the two of you first worked together a few years later during the Broadway revival of Hair, then you toured the country together in the aforementioned Joseph. How much fun are you having playing one of pop culture’s most iconic couples?
DIANA DeGARMO: My third grade self cannot believe that I have my own real-life Danny Zuko! I’m starting to bruise from all of my constant self-pinching. I am so thankful Ace and I work well together because that doesn’t always happen in this biz! We love to collaborate and make a great team.
JP: You guys received a video message from Olivia Newton-John, who, thanks to the 1978 film adaptation of Grease, has become most people’s go-to ideal Sandy. A two-part question….how cool was it to get that encouragement from her? AND…with such an iconic Sandy emblazoned in the minds of fans, what are you bringing to the role of Sandy that’s uniquely Diana?
DIANA DeGARMO: I’m pretty sure I blacked out the first time I tried to watch ONJ’s video. Then I awoke, watched again and screamed! Olivia Newton John is a beautiful soul and having her support is inspiring. She set the bar quite high for Sandy. The character itself has also become beloved and I believe that if she is given genuine heart and charisma then my Sandy could reach people in the same way.
JP: Alright, while I could have done the entire Rapid Fire 20 Q, with you, sadly my time is up as I’m about to pose a few questions to Ace and some of your fellow Grease cast mates. I’ve noticed in some press releases about the show, you’re character is Sandy Olsson, the last named used in the film adaptation, and sometimes referred to as Sandy Dumbrowski, Sandy’s last name in the original 1972 Broadway run of the show. Typically if it’s Dumbrowski, that indicates the production is more closely aligned with the original mounting, whereas if it’s Olsson,that usually indicates the production incorporates a few things added for the feature film. So…which is it?
DIANA DeGARMO: Well, I am Studio Tenn’s resident Big D so we have Sandy Dumbrowski at our Rydell High! Ha ha, no, that is not actually the reason, but more logistically for licensing reasons – I believe. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it!
RAPID FIRE WITH ACE YOUNG, DANNY IN STUDIO TENN’S GREASE
JP: From the moment I heard you and Diana were heading the cast of Studio Tenn’s Grease, I was stoked, then, I saw the promo photos by the always amazingly talented Anthony Matula and my excitement went through the roof. How much fun was the photo shoot?
ACE YOUNG: Doing a photo shoot with my wife and Tony Matula is a dream come true. Putting us in a room together never feels like work because we are all very creative and always have a blast. Then add Tony’s wife Laura to the mix and the fun level goes through the roof.
JP: When I chatted with your lovely wife, and current Grease leading lady, Diana, I mentioned the fact that this production marks the third time you guys have been part of the same theatrical production. What’s it like to be sharing the stage with her again?
ACE YOUNG: Sharing the stage with my wife always feels like the first time. I am constantly surprised and in awe of her voice and acting choices. I am her biggest fan and I have the best seat in the house.
JP: While this marks your Studio Tenn debut, your connection with Grease goes back a bit, having played Kenickie on Broadway as well as starring as Danny in the subsequent National Tour. How does Studio Tenn’s production, as directed by the genius that is Matt Logan, compare to your previous Grease experiences?
ACE YOUNG: In all the times I have done Grease the attention to detail has never been like this. Matt has raised the bar. The sets and costumes are out of this world. I haven’t even mentioned the band and all these voices. This is a must see!
JP: One of my favorite scenes in the stage version, as well as the iconic film, is the school dance in which Danny is unexpectedly paired with Cha-Cha DiGregorio. What’s Anna Perry like as a dance parter in the role of the caliente Cha-Cha?
ACE YOUNG: Anna Perry is a true professional. She is not only dance captain but also dancing, singing and acting in this musical. And when I get to dance with her…I’m very lucky that Cha-Cha is leading me in the dance.
RAPID FIRE WITH MELINDA DOOLITTLE, TEEN ANGEL IN STUDIO TENN’S GREASE
JP: Ok, as if it weren’t fabulous enough that Diana and Ace are headlining this production of Grease, then came news that you were cast as Teen Angel! How did joining the cast for this role come about?
MELINDA DOOLITTLE: Basically, all Matt Logan had to say was, “Diana and Ace are playing Sandy and Danny.” I was in! They are two of my favorite people! Plus, he was bringing in Marissa Rosen, one of my besties from NY and to top it off, all of my favorite Nashville talent was involved. This was honestly a no-brainer. Also…it’s Grease. Who doesn’t love Grease?
JP: You previously starred in Studio Tenn’s Smokey Joe’s Cafe and I’m just gonna say it…you are always one of my favorite performers at Studio Tenn’s annual One Night Only Gala. What keeps you coming back to the company?
MELINDA DOOLITTLE: Thank you so much! Studio Tenn puts on the best shows in this region, in my opinion. Matt Logan thinks out of the box and his designs and directing are fabulous. I’m a fan!
JP: As Teen Angel, you present the advantages of a career change for Cori Laemmel’s Frenchy. While you yourself have proven successful as a singer, actress, author, IF you had to choose a different career path, what would you do?
MELINDA DOOLITTLE: Secret Service. No question. I just want to be the female Jack Bauer.
JP: The 1978 film adaptation propelled the story into cult status, courtesy not just its stars, but also the cameos, including Frankie Avalon’s turn as Teen Angel and now you’re putting a whole new twist on the beloved role. What’s your favorite aspect of getting to play this character?
MELINDA DOOLITTLE: Beauty School Dropout has always been one of my favorite songs from this show. I love how it comes out of nowhere with all the class and sass you can muster. It’s such a joy to play…especially opposite Cori Laemmel.
RAPID FIRE WITH LAURA MATULA, RIZZO IN STUDIO TENN’S GREASE
JP: When I ran into you at Studio Tenn’s The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe, we joked about the fact that, much like the classic film version of Grease, Studio Tenn’s is also peppered with cast members…um…beyond high school age, shall we say. How much fun are you having as Rizzo?
LAURA MATULA: Cori Laemmel makes the joke that this is Grease Senior which gives us all a good cackle but honestly it surprisingly doesn’t feel as crazy as it sounds on paper! There is something so nostalgic and life affirming about approaching these roles in the middle of your life. Also, to be fair we have a wide range of ages from 18-30s. The feelings and memories are there of being in high school so you can track back to those moments and pull from them, but also your perspective on your teenage self and the teenagers around today is more thoughtful which I think really is a help in characterization. I think these these characters have always felt so grown up, which I’m sure that has a lot to do with the film, but it’s also in the way they speak and in their relationships that it would be strange to see full on teenagers playing these parts. In addition, my incredible on stage partner Liam Searcy (who is let’s just say, younger than I) brings such a great energy to the role of Kenickie that is so fun to play opposite. The Belmont ensemble bring another beautiful young perspective to the gaggle of actors hopping about the stage. It’s an all around blast and an absolute joy to be playing this role along with some of my favorite humans and incredible talent that I just consider myself super lucky and will do my best not to act my age;)
JP: Tell me about your Pink Ladies?
LAURA MATULA:They are the most to say the least! Gosh I am so in love with each and every one of the pink ladies I don’t know where to start. Marissa Rosen as Jan is full on belly laughing hilarious. I want to be best friends with her version of Jan but also give Jan a hug all at the same time. She makes everything on stage and off stage funnier and I adore her and am so lucky to get to work with her again. Briana Middleton is such a star in the making and I am so happy we have her in the show as our Lil’ Pink Lady. She’s the youngest of us Pink Ladies but she brings so much grace and style along with utterly KILLER pipes to Marty that is such a perfect fit to our group of gals. She is also just the most stunning! Cori Anne Laemmel is sheer perfection as Frenchy. She is tender and sweet, stylish and sassy, nurturing and fragile, all at the same time. Her ad libs are also some of the most magical moments of the show for me since I am the lucky one who gets to hear them and banter with her. She is one of my best friends in real life and favorite humans so I love getting to play this friendship on stage through a new lens!
JP: Even as I mentioned in my intro above, as a twelve year old boy, who’s favorite t-shirt featured a close-up of “Bad Sandy”, I”m not gonna lie…two of my favorite songs on the Grease soundtrack were and are Sandra Dee and There Are Worse Things I Could Do. These songs run the gamut of emotion from poking fun at Sandy to Rizzo’s own revelation about how she sees herself. What goes into preparing yourself to convey these various emotions thru song?
LAURA MATULA: I really do love Rizzo. I think she is very misunderstood and I love finding her moments to show some real emotion. She can be seen as a villain for a lot of the show for sure to Sandy but really to me she’s a girl who wants to hold on to the status quo that she knows and is secure in and protect her world from outsiders who could threaten the security she has worked so hard to create. That tough exterior hides a tender and sensitive heart for sure and the walls she puts up of sarcasm and edge are just masks she wears to cope with her own pain and insecurity. Sandra Dee is such a blast to play with because it’s a moment for Rizzo to step outside her ‘cool girl’ persona and put on this over the top number to entertain her friends and I love getting to show that side of her. There Are Worse Things I Could Do is one of my top ‘I want to sing this song some day songs’ so getting to sing it is such a joy. It’s a true moment of rawness for Rizzo and a chance to reveal a little more of the real. It’s one of the few songs in the show that is mining for a little more emotional depth and I am just excited to keep exploring the moments of juxtaposed defense and vulnerability in the song.
JP: Wardrobe and set design are two things that Matt Logan and Studio Tenn always knock out of the park. Can you tell me a little about both as they are presented in Grease?
LAURA MATULA: Matt’s design for the show is really playing to the music and performance aspect of the show, which I think is brilliant as sometimes a show set in a specific period can get bogged down with an attempt at photo realism. As in a lot of Matt’s designs he is leaning into style and perspective and I think that really allows the material to stand on its own and gives us actors opportunity for interpretation which I love! I know for a fact Stephen Moss is using more lights than ever before so that alone is worth the price of admission! As far as costumes are concerned the colors are so vibrant and beautiful and when the whole cast is on stage it’s a see of beautiful rich tones. I have 8 costume changes and I love each one so much but my prom dress is, I think, my absolute favorite! Keep an eye out also for the color and style of Greased Lightning. This is one of my faves. Also, Diana in her catsuit is a sight to behold!
RAPID FIRE WITH LIAM SEARCY, KENICKIE IN STUDIO TENN’S GREASE
JP: I understand you were a recent addition to the cast after the actor originally set to play Kenickie had to unexpectedly drop out of the show. What have been the biggest challenges of joining the show a little late in the game and how has your experience being part of Studio Tenn been thus far?
LIAM SEARCY: I was lucky enough to understudy the role the first few days of rehearsal and watch the original actor’s wonderful choices. I’m taking the character in a slightly different direction after jumping in but I absolutely didn’t start from scratch! With Ace and the guys helping me through what I missed, I feel very comfortable taking on the role. Studio Tenn executes a wonderful balance of the professional equity environment and a supportive family. I am so glad to be a part of this family and perform alongside such a talented and encouraging cast and crew.
JP: What’s your favorite aspect of Kenickie?
LIAM SEARCY: He is loyal to his friends and his girl Rizzo. He might be selfish and hold his friends to high standards, but he will be there to have Danny’s back no matter what.
JP: Tell me about your fellow T-Birds?
LIAM SEARCY: These boys are just a blast. With Ace Young as our fearless leader we go into each scene with a crazy fun energy that feels like it’s bouncing off the back of the theatre. It’s also nice to have a group if guys that have your back on stage and off.
JP: As the bad boys of Rydell High School, Kenickie and the T-Birds frequently endure the wrath of Mrs. Lynch, the school’s Head Mistress. In Studio Tenn’s Grease, she’s played by the brilliantly funny Megan Murphy Chambers. As Kenickie, you’re also paired with Laura Matula’s Rizzo. How’s it been sharing the stage with two of Nashville’s most talented and beloved leading ladies?
LIAM SEARCY: Performing with these powerhouses has been my best experience in theatre so far. By far this is the most talented cast I’ve ever been a part of, but it is also the kindest and most uplifting cast. Megan is just as kind offstage as she is hilarious onstage, and Laura has been the absolute best scene partner. The only thing better than working with Laura onstage is watching her belt out her solo from the wings. Can’t wait for this run!
Well, Liam won’t have to wait any longer and neither will audiences, as Studio Tenn’s Grease opens at Jamison Hall at The Factory at Franklin (230 Franklin Road, Franklin, TN 37064) tonight, Thursday, May 10 and continues whats almost sure to be a sell-out run thru Sunday, May 27. Shows are at 7 p.m. Thursdays-Saturdays with Saturday and Sunday matinees at 2 p.m. Tickets range in price from $30 to $85. Click Here for tickets. For more information, Click Here to check out Studio Tenn’s website and be sure to follow them on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.
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