Cool Rider Ashleigh Gray has Tea With Wilma
For those who may not be familiar with you work, can you tell me about some of your career highlights?
I’m probably best known for playing Elphaba, the green skinned Witch in Wicked, the musical. Having been the Standby between 2008 and 2010, I have since returned to the role several times in the past four years and am currently back with the West End cast at the moment. I consider myself very lucky as I am fortunate enough to have performed with every cast that has come and gone through this wonderful show, since 2007. Other highlights include; playing Bavarian disembodied head Miranda in Betwixt! at the Trafalgar Studios and making my Professional debut as Kim in Taboo, The Boy George Musical.
Cool Rider is coming to the West End’s Duchess Theatre for a week-long run following the success of the one-night concert at the Lyric Theatre in January. What is the show about and can you tell me about the character you play?
The show is based on the hit cult film sequel, Grease 2. With all the original songs from the 1982 film, starring Michelle Pfeiffer and Maxwell Caulfield, our show is billed as a ‘concert’ although it is most definitely not a ‘stand behind a mic stand’ affair! With amazing Choreography by Matt Krzan, Cool Rider is cleverly Directed and Staged by Guy Unsworth and lifted to life by Musical Director Lee Freeman, who tirelessly transcribed all the music of the film by ear, as it is not available anywhere else. That’s what makes this show so special. As we found out back in January via our incredible audiences at the Lyric Theatre, there is a LOT of love for Grease 2 out there but it has never been done before. I take great pride in the fact that I now have a bond with Michelle Pfeiffer, knowing that she and I are the only two people to have ever played the role of Stephanie Zinoni – and let me tell you, she is so much fun to play. As one of the Pink Ladies, Stephanie is a cool chick who dreams of meeting her ‘Cool Rider’. Enter Aaron Sidwell’s character, Michael. Michael is the cousin of Sandy, (Olivia Newton John’s character in Grease) and is a bookish English A* Student. He falls for Stephanie but knows that if he wants to get the girl, then something has to change. And therein lies our story!
If you could be the opposite sex for the day, what musical theatre role would you like to have a go at playing?
Ooh, definitely Jean Valjean! What an incredible role that is. A strong, determined character with a huge sense of loyalty and passion, who gets to sing some epic numbers and has a beard! Surely that’s what everyone wants from a Role, no?!
Do you have a favourite Musical Theatre show or song that means a lot to you?
I adore Miss Saigon. It was the first show I ever saw in the West End, as a youngster. I came down to London from Edinburgh on a school trip and we went to watch the show at it’s original home, the Theatre Royal on Drury Lane. I just remember being so incredibly moved by it and completely overwhelmed by the scale of it all. At that point in my life, I had already developed a huge passion for Musical Theatre and performed with my local Amateur Dramatic Society but to see those guys up on stage, doing what I loved to do, as their job………gave me the hope and inspiration that maybe, just maybe, I could be up there myself one day! The show itself is so brilliant, with such beautiful soaring music and impressive set pieces but most of all it holds some lovely memories! I cannot wait for it’s return to the West End in a few months!!
If you were going to get a new pet and had to give it a musical theatre character name, what would you go for?
I love the idea of Pets with Human names anyway – I think it’s funny. Like Cats called Bob, or Rabbits called Dave. I’m a dog girl, so I’d have to go for a pooch called Norma [Desmond]
What is your favourite moment (lines/song) in Cool Rider?
Well it has to be the ‘step-ladder’ moment, of course. When I think of the film, I automatically think of the moment Stephanie climbs the ladder, imagining she is riding on the back of a black motorcycle with her Cool Rider. When we got to that point in the show last time, I could barely hear myself singing for the reaction from the audience. It was the most amazing thing – being applauded for climbing a ladder!
That, along with the iconic ‘Reproduction’ number are my favourite moments.
What has been the funniest or most embarrassing thing that has ever happened to you on stage?
Oh dear, too many to mention. I’m terrible with lyrics – there’s been many a time I’ve opened my mouth to say or sing something and a load of nonsense has just come out. Although I’ve found that if you do it convincingly, no one seems to notice. I have a massive panic doing Cool Rider the last time because as soon as we started, the audience we completely on our sides and were actually singing along and saying the dialogue with us. There I was up on stage thinking “wow, this is amazing, what fun” which quickly turned to “oh no – now I definitely need to get the words right!!!!”
Thanks for having Tea With Wilma!
Cool Rider plays at the Duchess Theatre from 15-19 April. Click here for tickets