8 QUESTIONS WITH Gretel Scarlett

Real-life Sandy stars in Grease

Australian actress Gretel Scarlett (foreground) plays the lead role in the Grease musical. -- PHOTO: JEFF BUSBY
Australian actress Gretel Scarlett (foreground) plays the lead role in the Grease musical. -- PHOTO: JEFF BUSBY
Gretel Scarlett. -- PHOTO: BASE ENTERTAINMENT
Gretel Scarlett. -- PHOTO: BASE ENTERTAINMENT

Actress Gretel Scarlett was a straight-A student who attended dancing and singing classes and never hung out with the bad kids

Australian musical theatre performer Gretel Scarlett says she is a real-life version of Sandy, the sheltered, good-girl character she plays in the musical Grease.

The show, which had its Broadway premiere in 1972 and inspired the 1978 hit movie starring John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John, opened over the weekend at the MasterCard Theatres at Marina Bay Sands.

"I'm pretty much a real-life Sandy. I was the good girl growing up, I used to work very hard. I was that straight-A student, I went to dance classes, I went to singing classes," the 26-year-old tells Life! over the telephone.

"I never hung out with the bad kids at all."

Scarlett spent her childhood in Australia as the only girl in a family of five brothers, which she says taught her "how to have opinions and to be strong at what I do".

"Growing up with them was crazy, we all got along really well, but there were some fights, of course. They taught me to be strong, you couldn't be weak around them because they weren't going to put up with that," she says.

This is her first lead role in an international tour after graduating from the Western Australian Academy of Performing Arts with a Bachelor of Arts (Music Theatre) in 2008. Before this, she had smaller roles in the 2012 Asian tour of Wicked - the hit musical about the witches of Oz - and the 2009 Australian tour of Mamma Mia!, based on the songs of Swedish supergroup Abba.

Before Scarlett enrolled in the performing arts academy, she studied nuclear medicine at Sydney University. Her detour did not last long though and, after a year, she left the course to pursue her dream of performing.

Scarlett says that Sandy in Grease is a character who is close to her heart.

"I identify a lot with Sandy and I like that she represents the girls out there who aren't the bad girls or who aren't the girls who quite fit in. I really like that about her, that she gives girls hope."

1 Did you always want to be on stage?

I've always wanted to be on stage, I mean, even as a little girl, I liked dancing around and singing and being in the spotlight. I thrived on that. I was the happiest when I was out on stage, there was something in me that turned into a little monster, I suppose. So yeah, I loved it, I really did.

2 If you like performing so much, how did you end up studying nuclear medicine?

A part of me just thought that maybe it was best to go and get a Plan B in life, just in case the performing arts career didn't work out, because a lot of people don't get there.

I really liked nuclear medicine because you can diagnose and treat cancer with it and you can also diagnose sports injuries and general bodily functions. So, there was something about it that I just thought was fabulous, that it was so amazing that science can do that. I was just fascinated by it.

3 Why did you finally take the plunge to become a performer?

I studied only a year of nuclear medicine and I was sitting for an exam during my first semester and I felt I didn't necessarily belong there. I just wasn't completely fulfilled.

There was always this hunger. I really wanted to sing. I'd drive home in the car and I'd be listening to musical soundtracks. I'd watch a lot of movies and musicals, and I thought, you're not happy doing nuclear medicine, you need to do what you love.

4 Do you have a dream role?

I think every person has a dream role. I know that Elphaba in Wicked is up there, which I've understudied for, but she's on the list still. I'd love to play Velma or Roxy in Chicago, I'd love to play Cinderella in Cinderella. I love big, strong female roles.

5 What has going on tour been like?

I love it. It can get hard sometimes living out of a suitcase and it's also hard for me, because I'm a vegetarian, so when you go to other cultures, they go, 'Ah, you should try this, the chilli crab' or 'ah, you should try that', but I don't eat it.

I have to go and search for food, so it makes me get up and make full use of the day. I have to try a bit harder in some cities, but I love it, some people don't like to research, they want to go down the road and grab a steak burger or something, but I'm happy not to. I'm like, I'm going to get out, I'm going to go on the bus, explore the city.

6 How have rehearsals been?

We did about four weeks of rehearsals. It was quick and that was more to get the people who were dancing ready. There was a lot of jiving and a lot of partnerwork and lifts and everything.

For me, there was a lot of one-on-one time, so it was quite a lonely process and I think that that's something that I can relate to for Sandy because she's lonely in the musical, so I felt like an outsider in the rehearsal process.

7 What's your regime for getting ready for the show?

Well, I don't go out, I don't drink alcohol and I don't smoke. I don't actually do too much fitness because I'm quite naturally lean, so I don't really need any help in that department, otherwise I'd be too thin. I just do the show, and that keeps me going.

I eat very healthily, I'm a vegetarian, so there's a lot of fruit, lots of veggies, lots of vitamins every day.

8 How would you like to be remembered?

I'd love to be remembered as a hardworking, kind and giving person, I think that's really what matters at the end of the day.

lting@sph.com.sg

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