The West End stage production of Singin’ in the Rain opened in Melbourne in May ahead of an Australian tour later this year. We caught up with star Gretel Scarlett to chat about when they first started performing, tackling this iconic show and any onstage mishaps that have happened with 12, 000 litres of rain onstage!
Gretel graduated from WAAPA in 2008 and is a rising star in the Australian musical theatre scene. Most recently she starred as Sandy in Grease, and before that performed in Wicked and Mamma Mia. In 2014, she released her own solo album Hopelessly Devoted. Gretel is currently playing aspiring actress Kathy Selden in Singin’ in the Rain.
When did you first know you wanted to be a performer?
When I was a kid it was just sort of something I possessed in my personality. I just showed signs of wanting to entertain the others in the household and so my parents put me into dance class, so they nurtured it from the beginning. I really wanted to make something of it when I was very little. I remember when I was 12, going into high school, saying ‘I’m going to go to WAAPA and I want to be a live performer’ – so I had it figured out quite young.
When did you first discover Singin’ in the Rain? Did you watch the movie growing up?
As a youngster, coming from Central Queensland, no professional shows went to the smaller city towns so the closest was Brisbane and we couldn’t make frequent trips down to the city. So my introduction to musicals was watching movie musicals on a Sunday afternoon, so Singin’ in the Rain was one of those movies. That was my upbringing. I watched it a lot, so when the audition came out I didn’t need too much reminder about the story because I was quite familiar with it.
Kathy Selden was made famous by Debbie Reynolds. How did you go about making this iconic role your own?
I promised myself after Grease I never wanted to play an iconic character made famous by someone again. But there is something about what Debbie Reynolds did with the role that is quite universal. Every role that comes about, you need to make your own otherwise there’s no truth in it. You need to find your own sense of it and your personality that fits in the role otherwise it’s not believable on stage. I had to find my way to relate to it and it’s a very easy role to relate to – she’s a very strong girl which is similar to me, and someone who doesn’t want to play the games of Hollywood and I don’t want to play the games of the industry so I sort of felt like she belonged in a great place with me. I felt at home in her shoes, so there wasn’t too much that I had to step out of my comfort zone. Making it your own is always your own essence that you bring to it, and she’s a ray of sunshine and that’s always something I like to bring to my roles.
This musical has more of a classical style to the ones you’ve worked on recently. Were there any particular challenges you faced in preparing for that?
It’s nice because I was classically trained – it’s nice to go back to that gentler sound because we’re so obsessed with the belting and the mixing nowadays. So it’s nice to go back and appreciate musical theatre for what it was. It was a good reminder from our West End musical supervisor Robert Scott, he just brought us back to basics and got rid of any pop sound or modern Broadway sound. It’s not about that – it’s about the orchestra and the style of the music at the time. It’s true music theatre in the way that it was meant to be.
You also get to dance a lot more in this show than Grease. What’s been enjoyable or challenging about that?
I always have the singer/dancer plot for most of the shows that I’ve been in. So it’s nice to get out there and show off where my training began and all the years of hard work. And it’s nice to be able to do it in front of my parents. I love to kick a leg and show my strength in ballet in particular. It’s great, I love it!
What’s your favourite moment in the show to perform or watch?
I love ‘Good Morning’. It’s just a great time in the show, and it’s iconic, everyone in the audiences knows it and can recognise it. It’s got something special about it and it’s such an uplifting number. But I also love, and I stand in the wings and watch, Adam do ‘Singin’ in the rain’ every night, I think it’s magical. I’d love to do it one day – it’s never going to happen – but I love it!
Any funny stories from rehearsal or onstage mishaps particularly considering the rain element?
Everyone’s had a bit of a stack in the rain. I fell over, and I was just flat on my back and made a rain angel and it was great. There’s something magical about being in it every night but everyone has a funny story about falling over in the rain.
What other shows are on your bucket list?
There’s heaps. I always go for the adult roles, in years to come, like Mama Rose in Gypsy or Norma Desmond in Sunset Boulevard or Blanche DuBois in Streetcar Named Desire. I grew up listening to Carole King so that’s a dream musical [Beautiful: the Carole King musical] and a dream role to play her, because I’ve seen all her concerts and was introduced to her music very young. Or the great remake stage version of Frozen, I’d love to play Elsa!
Recently there has been a lot of issues affecting the arts industry, including imported actors in leading musical theatre roles. What do you hope for the future of the Australian musical theatre industry?
I hope that producers and performers can come to a good agreement in finding a great balance in it. It’s always been very hard for Australian actors to seek international work, especially without green cards and British passports. It’s gotten quite hard because you can go over there and it might take 6 to 8 months to get work but then there’s not enough time on your visa, so they won’t sponsor you to work. So producers have stopped sponsoring Australian artists, yet we’re quite open to accepting international artists; there needs to be a little bit of fairness. I think we have enough talent here. My belief is if you can cast an entire production of Singin’ in the Rain and specifically the three leads who are all Australian and all singer, dancers, and actors, if you can find that in Australia I feel like you can find that for all the other musicals. There just needs to be a good agreement and I hope it sorts itself out.
The movie is over 60 years old. What in the story still resonates with people today?
The story touches all generations, it’s got a bit of something for everyone. If you’re a kid you get the magical aspect of the rain, if you’re a mum or a dad you can bring your children to introduce them to what musical theatre really was and I think for the adults and the elderly in particular this is a trip down memory lane. You’re going back to the old 1920s Hollywood. These days we have stories about Kim Kardishian or Justin Bieber or something and it’s just not old school Hollywood where there are these dramas of people voice dubbing or body doubling someone else. It’s fun for the audience to sit there and go back in time; beautiful costumes, beautiful music, beautiful set. There’s something in it for everyone and everyone walks away singing the title song. And it’s funny! Everyone has a laugh, it’s uplifting at a time in the world when there’s so much sadness around and so much hate, it’s nice to come to the theatre and have an escape so hopefully it gives people that.
Singin’ in the Rain closes in Melbourne on July 2 and opens in Sydney at the Lyric Theatre on July 7. Check out all the tour dates and book your tickets at www.singin.com.au.