Monday, 20 January 2014

Interview: Ashleigh Gray

Ashleigh Gray has one of the most incredibly powerful voices in musical theatre. She is currently preparing to star as Stephanie for one night only alongside Reece Shearsmith, Aaron Sidwell, Hannah Levane and Niall Sheehy in the West End premiere of Cool Rider (aka Grease 2) at the Lyric Theatre.

Ashleigh is best known for her long association with the West End production of Wicked. She originally joined the show in 2007 as part of the ensemble whilst understudying Elphaba. She then took over as Standby Elphaba in June 2008 and stayed with the show until March 2010. Ashleigh briefly returned to Wicked as emergency cover in October 2010 and in February 2011. Recently Ashleigh returned to Wicked once again as Standby Elphaba between October and December 2013 proving popular with the hit musical’s loyal fan base.

The performer’s UK Touring credits include: Martha in The Secret Garden, Lorraine in I Dreamed A Dream – The Susan Boyle Musical, Kim in Taboo and Miss Lynch in Grease. She has also starred as Emily in Myths and Hymns at the Finborough Theatre and as Miranda in Betwixt at Trafalgar Studios. Just a few of her concert appearances include: Momentous Musicals, Susan Boyle in Concert, Lee Mead at The Pheasantry and West End Men.

Recently I spoke to Ashleigh about why she’s so excited to be starring in Cool Rider, what it’s like to take on one of the most iconic and sought after roles in musical theatre and which three songs she would take with her to a desert island…

Cool Rider has such a cult following. How much did you know about it prior to auditioning?
When I was growing up I was a huge fan of the first Grease and then I just loved the sequel, so when I found out they were doing it in the West End I thought ‘How do I get tickets for this?’ but then obviously the casting started and I was even more excited to be a part of it!

Ashleigh performing in Momentous Musicals
In a nutshell, can you explain what the show is about and how your character fits into the story?
Basically, it’s a sequel to Grease set in Rydell High School in America and instead of Danny and Sandy we have Stephanie and Michael. Michael is an English A* student who goes to High School in America. He gets into the world of the T-Birds and the Pink Ladies but he doesn’t quite fit in, he’s a bit of a geeky character. He then falls in love with my character, Stephanie, and throughout the course of the show we learn that the only way Stephanie can get a boy in high school is if he is a biker. In order to win the girl Michael decides to become a biker but as a mystery man – nobody knows it is him. Eventually everyone gets together and it’s a happy ending… with some fantastic songs along the way!

How does the production compare with the film?
All the songs from the film are in the stage show. We are doing a kind of concert version of the show because it’s just for one night and it includes all the famous songs with dialogue from the film linking them together. It’s a taster of the film but fans will love it as all the key elements are in the show. It will be a great night!

There is an incredible cast. Have you started working with them yet?
Yes, we’ve been having separate rehearsals. I’ve mostly been working with Aaron (Sidwell) who is playing Michael opposite me. The ensemble have also been rehearsing and we all came together on Sunday which was great. Full rehearsals will then start and we will be rehearsing right up until the following Monday!

I have to talk to you about Wicked! Recently you returned to the show again, what was it like to go back? Was it a bit surreal?
Yes it was surreal but it was great! Wicked holds a massive place in my heart, and it always will. I have really fond memories so it was lovely to be back in the building, surrounded by some familiar faces and some new faces. It was great fun and to get the chance to play the role again was fantastic. It’s not a terrible role to play [laughs]!

Ashleigh as Elphaba in Wicked
Every female in musical theatre dreams of playing Elphaba. Does that put extra pressure on you when playing the part, or do you try to just enjoy it? It’s a tough role to play!
Yes, it is but you mustn’t let the pressure get to you. I treat it like any other role and remain truthful to the character. It just so happens she has some incredible songs to sing and goes on this brilliant journey. I always came at it from an actor’s point of view and tried to make it my own as much as possible. I was given licence to do that when I came back as well so you’ve just got to get out there, enjoy it and give it your best shot!

Looking ahead, do you ever say ‘I would love to play that role’ or do you wait and see what pops up?
This business can be very unpredictable. Obviously there are some things I would love to do – for example Les Mis, because that was the show I listened to growing up and it's something I would really love to do. I always think there are things around the corner, and you have to wait to see if they are going to come to you. I love exploring new pieces so perhaps there’s something out there that’s not even off the page yet which might be my next ideal role. You just have to wait and see!

Do you ever get the chance to see any theatre?
There has been some really great and promising London fringe theatre over the last couple of years and some great things have come out of that. Things like Titanic at the Southwark Playhouse. There are some great shows in town but also some lovely little productions that I have enjoyed seeing.

Ashleigh performing at Scott Alan Live at the indigO2

I have a horrible question for you… imagine you had to go to a desert island and you could only take three musical theatre songs with you. Which three would you choose?
Oh my goodness that’s an awful question! What would I take?! Oh my goodness! This is really hard! I think… probably… I would probably have to take Defying Gravity because it’s such a great song and it’s got a bit of dialogue in there too which is always a good thing [laughs]! I would also take one of my favourite songs which is actually a male song from Myths and Hymns called ‘Awaiting You’. It’s the most beautiful song by Adam Guettel and… what else would I take?! I know – I would have to take ‘Gold’ from Once! It’s a real rousing, feel-good song.

Last question, you have built up such a loyal following throughout your career who will quite literally come and see you in anything you do! What is it like having that kind of support behind you?
It’s amazing! It never fails to amaze me when I come out of stage doors all over the country and meet people who have travelled from all over! I feel so honoured that they are using their time and money to come along and support me. It’s very much appreciated and I always try to make sure I spend time with these people and I thank them. It’s very important to me and nice to know you have touched someone in a way that makes them want to support you. It’s lovely, it’s really lovely!

Interviewed by Andrew Tomlins (Editor)

Cool Rider is being staged at the West End’s Lyric Theatre for one night only on Monday 27th January 2014. The 7.30pm performance is sold out but there are still some tickets available for the 11.00pm performance. Please visit for further information and tickets.

Read our interviews with other Standby Elphaba's, including: Kerry Ellis, Cassidy Janson, Nikki Davis-Jones, Hayley Gallivan and Emma Hatton.

Photo Credit 2 & 4: Darren Bell

1 comment:

  1. We have seen Ashleigh in IDAD The Susan Boyle Story and in concert in EDI with Susan Boyle. We follow her on her FB site and are always looking for a chance to see her when we travel from the USA to the UK. What a fantastic actress and singer/performer. We wish her all the very best in her career. Looking forward to when her career brings her to the USA. Larry and Martha Ellen Trulock, USA