BWW Interview: Pretty Little Liars' JANEL PARRISH Talks GREASE Toronto
GREASE says "You're the One That I Want" to Pretty Little Liars star, Janel Parrish. With previews beginning November 1st at Toronto's Winter Garden Theatre, Parrish will be taking on the iconic role of Sandy - but did you know that she auditioned for a different role?
Janel Parrish is no stranger to the stage. The Honolulu-born actress rose to fame in the ABC teen-drama, Pretty Little Liars - but began her career in musical theatre. Previous stage roles include Young Cosette in Les Misérables (National Tour and Broadway 1996), Anna & Wendla U/S in Spring Awakening (Los Angeles 2012), a staged-reading of A Walk to Remember: the Musical and the LA and New York productions of Cruel Intentions: the Musical. Parrish has got the dance chops too. In 2014, she made it to the finals of the 19th season of Dancing with the Stars.
Parrish sits down with BroadwayWorld's Taylor Long to discuss her Broadway roots and how she has been preparing for Sandy her entire life.
PROFILE: Janel Parrish
Horoscope Sign | Scorpio
Favourite Musical | Miss Saigon
Favourite Subject in School | English
In High School, you would have been voted "Most Likely To"? | Most Likely to Know All the Words to Any Broadway Musical
What are you listening to right now? | Hamilton OBC - "I never get sick of it."
When did you start singing?
My dad loves to tell this story. I must have been five? They loved musical theatre, so really, I thank them (and I blame them). They were listening to Phantom of the Opera while taking me to pre-school and my dad heard singing in the background (on the high note in "Think of Me"). And he was like, "What was that?" Meanwhile, I was just in the back, living my best life - singing. I don't remember that obviously, but I do remember always loving musical theatre and wanting to sing-along in the car.
Because of that experience, they took me to see Phantom of the Opera. It was the first musical I had ever saw on stage and I was just transfixed. Apparently I just turned to my parents and said, "I want to do that." So they let me audition for Les Misérables, and that was it. I was bit by the Broadway bug.
What was it like being a kid on Broadway?
It's crazy to think of now, as an adult, but to me, when I was six - that was normal. That was life. It was amazing, and I wish I could remember more. When I look back at pictures, it almost seems like it didn't happen, because I was so young. But it was thrilling for my parents. My mom went on tour with me and my dad would come whenever he could. Collectively, I think they've seen Les Misérables 250 times.
I just remember being a little girl, touring and then going to Broadway - and then being like, "You know what? I want to see my friends and go back to school." My parents being like, "Are you sure?" And me being like, "Yeah, I want to go be... eight." We came back to Hawaii, and I did some musical theatre and regional theatre there. I remember saying to my parents, "Oh, I miss Les Mis, can I go back now?" And they were like, "No, that's not how it works."
How did you end up getting cast as Sandy in GREASE? What was the audition process like?
Actually, it goes back to Cruel Intentions: the Musical. I was in New York, and I was playing Cecile at Le Poisson Rouge in Greenwich Village. I was contacted by the GREASE producers, who said that they were doing more of a relevant version of Grease and they were interested in coming to see me (in Cruel Intentions) for the role of Rizzo. So, I sort of knew that that was going to be my audition.
So they came, they saw the show and I was in talks to possibly play Rizzo. A couple of months later, I was at a call with our wonderful director, Josh Prince. He was like, "You know, I was looking at videos of you performing and your general spirit and all that and I thought to myself - why can't she be Sandy?"
I was so surprised! As someone who does not look anything like Olivia Newton-John, a very iconic look for that role, I couldn't believe that he was thinking about me for Sandy - but it just made me so happy, that I could be considered for the role. I was so happy that someone could, based on what they know of me, my voice, my spirit, that they could say, "yeah, you're more of a Sandy to me."
So I'm happy to be Sandy. It's a role that I've always wanted to play and just never thought I would ever be offered.
Even Pretty Little Liars, the show that gave me my career in a lot of ways - I didn't audition for Mona. I auditioned for a different role, didn't get it and was very sad. And then a month later, I was called in for the role that I ended up getting.
It always works out the way it should. I would have been stoked to play Rizzo - but I'm even more stoked that I have the opportunity to play Sandy, because, like I said, it was a role that I never ever thought I would be considered for.
What kind of preparation goes into portraying such an iconic role?
Well, I feel like I've been preparing my whole life, because I've seen Grease probably 500 times. I used to watch it over and over again on tv. I'm one of those people who knows every line too.
But you know, I went back and watched the movie, with new eyes, knowing I would be portraying Sandy. Singing the songs, listening to it and getting amped up for it. Going into my vocal coach and getting vocally ready for it and then eventually starting rehearsals is all part of the process.
I'm excited to portray her in a different way, while also bringing the spirit of Sandy to the stage.
Describe your Sandy in one word.
I want her to be somebody that people can relate to. I want to kind of ground her a little bit more and give her layers and give her - her innocence and vulnerability, but a little bit of a struggle to discover who she really is. I don't want it to be like - she just changes for her man at the end - I want to give her some human layers. Where people can understand that she's just trying to figure out who she is too. She changes at the end, but a lot of that is about her finding her inner pink lady.
For herself, not just for Danny.
That kind of sounds like, from what you were saying, the general vision for this production as well -
Yeah. When I spoke with Josh, he said he wanted to keep it Grease. He wants to give it that same spirit, that same vibe that everybody wants. It's going to be fun. It's going to be high-energy, and romantic, obviously. But he also wants it to be relevant. He wants it to be grounded in reality - for people to be like, "Grease actually has a great story." For people to re-live what it was like to be in High School. To be finding yourself, falling in love for the first time, being cool for your friends - GREASE is all of that.
What are you most excited about in putting this show on, going through this adventure?
I'm excited for so many things. Always with a show, I'm usually most excited for the rehearsal period. Obviously, it will be so exciting to put it on every night and perform - I love performing, it makes me feel fulfilled. But I'm always excited to get there and meet the cast. I feel like that's when you really get to start discovering your character and the director's vision, and you start to bond with your cast members. There is nothing more exciting, for me, than rehearsing for a new show. You get yourself amped up, in character, and you start to really find the groove with the show.
But also - eight shows a week. I've never done eight shows a week. I think that will be really fun, and different for me. Just having my job - to be Sandy - every single day, is so awesome. I'm also excited to see Toronto. I've never spent any time there.
What would be your advice to a young performer?
I would say that if you have the passion for it - train. Get into dance classes, you'll need them even if you think you don't. If you like being on stage, a lot of these productions will have movement in them, so it helps to know the basics. Take vocal lessons, acting lessons. Familiarize yourself with productions that you love. Make it your art and your craft - dedicate yourself to it. I did that and it became my life.
There is nothing better than being obsessed with what you do.
GREASE beings previews November 1st at Toronto's Historic Winter Garden Theatre, 189 Yonge Street, Toronto, ON.
Directed by Josh Prince (Beautiful: the Carole King Musical, Shrek: the Musical), the cast features Janel Parrish as Sandy, Katie Findlay (How to Get Away with Murder) as Rizzo and Dylan S. Wallach as Danny.
Tickets for previews and opening night are available on pre-sale starting September 5th, 2017. Visit https://tinyurl.com/greasetoronto
ALL tickets go on sale September 12th, 2017.
Visit https://greaseonstage.com/ for more information about the new production.