As Grease The Musical tears into Cardiff for a week of live shows, Around Town catches up with three of the cast members, Tom Parker, Danielle Hope and Louisa Lytton
Bolton-born Tom Parker, 28, best-known for singing in boyband The Wanted, says there was no question for him when it came to agreeing to play T-bird Danny Zuko in the show. “It’s such an iconic role and it’s an opportunity I couldn’t really pass on,” he says. “I originally went in to play Teen Angel [currently being played by Darren Day], so when I got the call to ask me to come back as Danny, I was genuinely thrilled.”
So how does it feel stepping into John Travolta’s much-loved leather jacket?
“It’s scary, but exciting at the same time. You don’t want to imitate Travolta and you don’t want to stray too far from what people love, but you have to put your own stamp [on it] and I feel like I’ve done that,” says Parker, who’s also been getting to grips with Danny’s signature quiff: “I’m getting through a can of hair spray a day!”
Even after making his mark on the character, Parker still gets the odd flutter of nerves, despite his musical background. After all, this is his first time starring in a major stage production. He admits: “It’s settled down now but every new venue is always nerve-racking as you don’t know how you’ll be received.”
There have been hardly any slip-ups so far, although he has “fallen over in one of the dance numbers, which was a tad embarrassing, but you have to laugh it off!”
The keen DJ and Celebrity MasterChef semi-finalist remembers being captivated by the original Grease film when he was younger, and could recall “pretty much every word” of all the songs before rehearsals for the tour started.
“It’s such a feel-good film,” he says. “I really like [performing] You’re The One That I Want. It gets everyone up dancing and it makes you feel happy!”
He’s also very much looking forward to coming back to Wales: “We played the Motorpoint Arena a few times with the band, so I was over the moon when I heard we were coming back to Wales with Grease – love the Welsh fans!”
For fans of The Wanted, there’s also reason to hope the boys will regroup at some point in the not too distant future. “We’ve spoken about it, so hopefully everyone will come together properly when the time is right.”
For Danielle Hope, 25, who plays Sandy, this isn’t actually the first time she’s appeared in Grease. “It was the first musical I ever did when I was 11 years old,” she says with a laugh. “Me and my best friend sat and watched the movie every day, wrote down all the dialogue and then chose who was going to be the characters out of our friends at primary school, so when I heard that Grease was happening again, it was something I always wanted to be a part of.
“You can’t not love Grease, the characters are so memorable, so iconic,” she buzzes. For the audition she had to sing and “do all the hand jives, which is funny because Sandy isn’t actually in any of the big dance numbers, which is a shame, but at least I always know that I’ll know the choreography if I ever have to be on for the dance!”
The Manchester-born actress and singer first came to fame when she won the BBC contest Over The Rainbow, to play Dorothy in Andrew Lloyd Webber’s stage production of The Wizard Of Oz, so she’s no stranger to performing big-hitter parts.
“Luckily, most of my jobs have been huge, iconic movies previous to stage shows, so actually it’s been quite a familiar challenge to take on the role of Sandy. Maria [In The Sound Of Music] was so well-known, Dorothy [in The Wizard Of Oz] was so well known – I think I should do something new next that no one’s ever heard of!”
She stills feels anxious before stepping out on stage though, despite an impressive stage CV. “I get nervous for every single opening,” she explains. “When you’re on a tour, everything changes depending on the venue, which I think is quite a lucky thing, because we get to move every couple of weeks – that’s what keeps it fresh and alive.”
The first time she saw Grease the movie, she was aged seven or eight and just fell in love with Frenchie’s pink hair. In the show, she’s not allowed to go for bubblegum locks, but says she loves being blonde as Sandy.
“I love the wigs, I love the 1950s, I love the cut and the shape [of clothes] for women back then, and they’re just so vibrant, colourful and fun to wear.”
With the show lasting two hours, and eight performances a week (“This show never stops!”), Hope is keen on staying in shape.
“I have a few weird hobbies, like circus arts and aerial yoga, aerial silks and trapeze, because I find the gym terribly boring!”
She’s also a huge fan of Cardiff after several of her best friends moved to the city following high school. “I love Cardiff,” says Hope, remembering how she starred in The Sound of Music when it visited Wales. “I’ve never done the Millennium Centre though, so that’s exciting, because that’s going to be massive. Welsh audiences are always absolutely cracking!”
Not the worst thing
Former EastEnders and The Bill actress, Louisa Lytton, 28, is starring as Rizzo and is adamant the character is the “most fun” of the bunch, but says, “Don’t tell anyone else in the cast!”
“For me, it’s nice to be able to play a different character; obviously most characters I’ve played in the past have been very innocent, and the girl-next-door, whereas with Rizzo, she’s got something about her and she’s really feisty.”
It’s the first musical the London born actress has ever signed up to, so Grease was an opportunity to test herself in a relatively new area. “I went to Sylvia Young Theatre School and trained in all three aspects of the industry, so for me it was a chance to finally do something I’d trained in,” says Lytton, who was the youngest person to ever appear on Strictly Come Dancing, aged 17 in 2006, when she made the quarter-finals.
“I was a massive fan of Grease, the film, growing up, and Rizzo was always my favourite character, so I was lucky to then play her. [Original Rizzo actress] Stockard Channing is amazing. Me and my nan used to sing There Are Worse Things I Could Do in the kitchen.”
Playing Rizzo does come with its downsides though.
“I love the costumes – the wig makes me look like I’m in my forties,” Lytton admits with a laugh, “but it’s great.”
The actress, who appeared on last year’s series of ITV’s The Jump hasn’t actually ever been to Cardiff before, and says: “I’m looking forward to having two weeks there and to have some time exploring!”
:: Grease The Musical comes to Cardiff’s Wales Millennium Centre Monday, July 17–Saturday, July 29. Tickets available from www.greasethemusical.co.uk