Theatre veteran Val Lehman to join the cast of Grease

There is little Val Lehman hasn’t done in her career as a performer. Theatre in education, film and television, musicals and plays – Lehman has played the gamut of roles across the genres and she’s still exploring new ways to sink her teeth into her work.

Val Lehman joins the cast of Grease
Val Lehman joins the cast of Grease

“My favourite genre is the one I’m working in at the time” said the Silver Logie winning actress down the phone line this morning.

For the foreseeable future, her genre of choice is the wonderfully energetic world of musical theatre, and thank goodness, because this energetic woman of the world is ready to rock and roll!

Lehman, most famous for her role as Bea Smith in the Australian TV series Prisoner, was today announced as the latest cast member in GFO’s revival of Grease, which is set to open at QPAC in Brisbane this August.

Joining previously announced cast mates Rob Mills, Todd McKenney, Gretel Scarlett, Bert Newtwon and Lucy Maunder, Lehman will join the company as Miss Lynch, a teacher at Rydell High. Lehman is thrilled to be returning to the music theatre stage (after an absence of more than 15 years) in a show which she describes as a “trip down memory lane”.

“I saw the original production that was done in Australia in the 70s and I thought ‘oh yes, that’s lovely and fun’, and I knew a lot of the young people in the production then, of course” she told AussieTheatre today.

Of course, seven years after the Broadway production had achieved notoriety (it was the longest running show in Broadway history until surpassed by A Chorus Line) Grease was made into a major movie musical starring John Travolta and Australian sensation Olivia Newton John, and Lehman, like many other Australians was drawn to the film.

“When the movie came out, I was just so thrilled to pieces that we had an Australian girl in it! I thought ‘yes, at last!’. It was when we started to make an impact in the industry internationally and of course that’s iconic that movie. It’s just so famous now and such a lot of fun!”, she said.

And if Lehman has anything to do with it, the Australian revival of the musical will also be a hoot. Having played Mama Morton in Chicago (“it’s an obvious role for me, really”), the Wicked Witch of the West in Wizard of Oz, Aunt Eller in Oklahoma! and other plum roles from the catalogue over the years, Lehman is no stranger to the heightened world of musical theatre , and although Miss Lynch doesn’t have a “number”, she certainly uses her pipes in the production.

“She doesn’t have a solo, but she does get involved with the song ‘Alma Mater’. She has a bit of a sing, and I hope she gets a bit of a dance as well! It’s my era, I grew up with Rock and Roll!”

Perhaps the Associate Choreographer from the London production will manage to find her a special moment for a twist or two?

“I used to be quite good at it once upon a time – I’ll give it a twirl!”, she laughed. 

At 70 years of age, Lehman is unfazed by the notion of touring the country for months at a time. Lucky, as the show is set to tour Brisbane, Melbourne and Sydney and the producers have not yet ruled out the possibility of further seasons in 2014.

“My first husband was an army officer and we moved around the world every two years, so I’m quite used to moving. Plus, I’m one of those weird actors who really enjoy touring. I love it”

The family-like connection that develops when touring in close quarters with a group of performers and the incredible opportunities to travel and work at the same time are certainly positive aspects of the touring lifestyle.

“The opportunity to be paid to go and stay somewhere and experience something new. It’s a great benefit and I love it – I did a lot of touring in the UK and I got to see an enormous amount of the country that perhaps I wouldn’t have seen otherwise,” Lehman explained.

Grease is a show about teenagers (although many of the cast are much older than the characters they portray) and Val is looking forward to working with the younger members of the cast.

“I enjoy working with young people generally. I worked many years ago in theatre in education for 5 years and I love the energy of the young. I love working with them.”

Grease, although more than 40 years old, resonates with many different demographics. Teenagers relate to it as it portrays their age group. 20-40 somethings relate to it because they grew up watching the movie it on VHS and dancing to the mega mix at school discos. Older generations relate to it because it portrays their era and their musical upbringing.

“There will be an audience that comes in who are sort of like me: Those who saw the show in the 70s and are now bringing their grandchildren, or their children, to share that fantastic memory”, Lehman mused. 

The multi million dollar production of Grease is set to open in Brisbane on August 25, with previews from August 20. 

Erin James

Erin James is's former Editor in Chief and a performer on both stage and screen. Credits include My Fair Lady, South Pacific and The King and I (Opera Australia), Love Never Dies and Cats (Really Useful Group), Blood Brothers (Enda Markey Presents), A Place To Call Home (Foxtel/Channel 7) and the feature film The Little Death (written and directed by Josh Lawson).

Erin James

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