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grease - the arena spectacular

Grease - The Arena Spectacular absolutely stormed the country in 1998. Kelley was the director's and choreographer's assistant on the production, and played the role of Rizzo, first by surprise in Brisbane, then again for the return season in Sydney and Melbourne. In 2005 Grease returned with even more excitement and vigour, this time choreographed by Kelley.

kelley says

I was taking a break from performing after being completely burnt out after Sweet Charity when I was asked to be the assistant to Choreographer Ross Coleman and the assistant to English Director David Gilmore on Grease the Arena Spectacular.

It was the 25 year anniversary of Grease and the beginning of the Arena style events. I had a great time jumping onto the other side and helping in the creation of this piece.

It was while we were on tour that Dannii Minogue playing 'Rizzo' got food poisoning on the opening night of Brisbane, my home town, the understudy wasn't ready and the producers turned to me and begged me to go on.

I had helped in the creation of Dannii's dance plot, so I knew that, but I only knew the songs to sing along to and had a very vague idea of the script from listening to the cast rehearse.

My family were in the audience when it was announced that Dannii was off and I was playing the role. To everyones surprise including my own I performed Rizzo that night and recieved glowing reviews the next day.

When Dannii left the show I ended up playing Rizzo in Sydney and Melbourne for the return seasons. This was an incredible thing that I worked on both sides of this production.

My other funny memory from this show was when I performed Rizzo one night in Sydney we had a streaker on stage! Jane Scali and I were singing and holding back tears of laughter as Craig McLachlan and Miguel Ayesa dragged him off by the short and curly's. 'Streak' was the word was the word that you heard...............




grease

grease
Kelley's impromptu performance as Rizzo in Brisbane

 

press

Actor's impromptu Grease role has no slips

Chills were multiplying for Brisbane actor Kelley Abbey when she took to the stage with just a few hours' notice as tough girl Rizzo on the opening night of Grease: The Arena Spectacular on Monday. Abbey wowed the audience and cast as she stepped confidently into top-billed Dannii Minogue's shoes when the slick show slid accross the stage of the Brisbane Entertainment Centre.
Although sighs of disappointment were heard after the announcement of Minogue's absence because of the flu, the audience quickly offered enthusiastic support for one of 'Brisbane's own'. That moment was extra special for Abbey's proud mother and sister, who had not known they would see her on stage. Her sassy American accent was spot-on, as were her attitude and composure.
Last night, Abbey took ailing Minogue's place again.
Fresh from being lauded in Sweet Charity's lead role (made famous by Shirley MacLaine) down south, Abbey had learnt the role of Rizzo to teach Minogue, who joined the cast when rehearsals were already under way. Abbey, the show's assistant to the director and choreographer, had never performed the part publicly.
Co-star Craig McLachlan, who played the role of Danny, echoed the audience's appreciation when he paid tribute to Abbey in the finale: "In Brisbane, they make the best Rizzos, don't they."
Choreographer Ross Coleman, too, was full of praise for his assistant-turned-star.
Trained by Sandra Been at Inala, the dedicated Abbey, according to her teacher, always stood out.
After moving to Sydney, she attracted attention in David Atkins' dance spectacles Dancin' Man and Dynamite . Then she was noticed by the producer of E Street and was cast as rock singer JoJo, playing the part from 1991-1993.
After featuring as Anita in the Victoria State Opera's production of West Side Story, Abbey landed the plum role of Charity in Sweet Charity. Last year, she sang at the AFL grand final.
The Courier Mail - 13 May 1998




Slick Grease a real dazzler

They came expecting to see one star and instead welcomed home another.
Brisbane-born-and-bred Kelley Abbey, perhaps best known for her role as JoJo in E Street but more recently acclaimed as the lead in Sweet Charity in Sydney and Melbourne, learnt just hours beforehand that she would take over as Rizzo from a flu-struck Dannii Minogue.
Although Abbey, as the director's and choreographer's assistant, had taught the role to Minogue, she had never performed it before an audience. The crowd of 12,000's disappointment was audible when told of Minogue's absence but equally voluble was their welcome to Abbey. Obviously, singing before 100,000 people at last year's AFL grand final stood her in good stead, as did the palpable support of her 47 fellow on-stage cast members.
She gave a gutsy and self-possessed interpretation of Rizzo, fully deserving of Craig McLachlan's finale ad lib: "In Brisbane they make the most amazing Rizzos, don't they."
Her powerful sincerity in There Are Worse Things I Could Do provided the show's emotional highlight. It was one of many fabulous moments in this slick but spontaneous production which struck the perfect tone of clever parody, charm and exhuberance.
The Courier Mail - 13 May 1998




Abbey's Road

In an industry filled with people hungry for fame, Kelley Abbey suffers from ambition anorexia. After gorging on success as the sweet-hearted star of Sweet Charity, the energetic performer turned her back on the buffet of fame. "I was completely burnt out from months of eight shows a week," she says. "It was quite an intense experience which was impossible to prepare for."
Before becoming musical theatre's hooker with a heart of gold, choreographing video clips and the occasional television appearance kept Abbey off the streets. "It was totally different being such a physically demanding role. I wanted to disappear for a while, behind the scenes."
Few actors who have sat in dressing rooms with a gold star on the door would consider dirtying their hands as an assistant on Grease, the arena spectacular. "It was exactly what I needed. I wanted to work on the show, but didn't want to worry about performing so I took on the job as assistant to the director and choreographer."
The self-confessed 'Greaser' watched Olivia Newton-John and John Travolta fumble their way through the '50s on screen six times. It was Stockard Channing's performance as bad-girl Rizzo that stuck in Abbey's memory along with the bubble-gum music.
"It was my job to get Dannii Minogue ready for her role as Rizzo which was great fun. In a show which is mainly about having fun Rizzo has one of the few dramatic moments," Abbey says. "So when Dannii was sick in Brisbane they asked me to go on for her. It was one of those requests where if you don't do it you will let everyone else down." "I had a quick run through and then I was on. It was quite spectacular."
Minogue returned to the role, but producer John Frost filed Abbey's performance away in his mind and cast her when the season was extended. "It will be a good way to ease back into performing although it's totally different to being in a theatre. When you're performing in a stadium, in the round, every gesture has to be big," Abbey says. "There is one part where Rizzo raises her middle finger at a character. Instead of holding your hand in front of you, you have to lift it above your head so everyone can see it."
The lessons in larger-than-life acting are being taken seriously by Abbey, who expects an onslaught of arena spectaculars to slide into Melbourne in Grease's wake. "Just about every producer must be thinking of different shows that they can stage in a stadium from Oklahoma to West Side Story," she says. "It is the way the industry is headed." "Long running shows in theatres don't catch the public's attention. They want big, special events."
Rizzo's bad girl antics are also the perfect antidote for any lingering characteristics from Charity. "It's good to be bad. Charity was so 'gee-whiz' all the time. Rizzo's quite a bit like JoJo, the bikie-mole from hell I played on television in E Street." "People who find it hard to relate to Sandy's nice-girl nature relate easily to Rizzo."
Despite her return to the spotlight, Abbey is not afraid to return to the shadows. "I'm happy with what I'm doing. I love being involved in this industry whether I'm helping with the direction, the dancing, on stage or in the audience. It's about giving your best to others."
Herald Sun - 1 June 1998




Abbey wins Rizzo role

Brisbane performer Kelley Abbey has won the role of Rizzo in the hit stage show Grease - The Arena Spectacular in the Melbourne and Sydney return seasons.
Abbey impressed the show's producers last week when filling in at short notice for the first two performances of the Brisbane season because Dannii Minogue was ill.
Minogue, who was to be replaced by Gina G because of prior committments in England, has since cleared her schedule for a return to the Rizzo role in an extended Brisbane season from June 16.
Abbey, best known for her role as JoJo in E Street from 1991-1993 performs in Melbourne from June1 and in Sydney from June 9. Abbey, also the director's and choreographer's assistant, had never performed the Rizzo role in public, despite teaching Minogue the ropes.




Grease change

Last week, the smash hit musical Grease was beginning to resemble a game of musical chairs. Gina G is out of the show, Dannii is coming back but only for a couple of shows and the musical's assistant to the choreographer and director, Kelley Abbey, is filling in for the Sydney and Melbourne shows.
"It's like a game of relay," Kelley, 31, says. "I was doing a publicity shoot with Dannii and she would run in and do some photos, then run off and change and then I would put on the costume and run in and have my photo taken. It was all pretty confusing. "But it is Dannii's role, I am just filling in for her because she has other committments."
The Brisbane-born dancer and choreographer, whose only television role has been on E Street, playing JoJo, first filled in for Dannii when the pop star was taken ill during the Brisbane leg of the Grease tour. "The understudy wasn't ready so, at about three in the afternoon, they asked me to fill in," Kelley says.




Kelley's abbey

Exquisite views from Kelley Abbey's Neutral Bay apartment make home a place she's keen to head.

Stage performer Kelley Abbey doesn't have much time to relax at home but when she gets a break from the hit musical , Grease, she heads for the rooftop of her apartment block at Neutral Bay. There's no better place to relax than the roof top, with its spectacular view of the Opera House, Fort Denison, the Harbour Bridge and yachts moored in Shell Cove Bay.
"There are only six units and we share the rooftop," says Kelley, adding that the outdoor area makes her apartment feel bigger. "I don't have to stay in my flat all the time. On the rooftop there's a barbeque, chairs and tables. On a sunny day, you just don't want the day to end."
Kelley, the assistant choreographer in Grease, has rented the two-bedroom apartment for the past six years. The serene harbour views complement the calm, meditative environment of Kelley's flat.
Pale blue is the dominant shade in the flat. Even the brown wood-grain veneer on the television set has been painted blue. Crystals such as blue agate and amethyst, which Kelley found herself on a trip to India, are displayed everywhere. "I trekked up into the Goa Mountains for half a day to find the stones. They looked grotty and volcanic until the guide sliced them open and polished them on the spot," says Kelley, who initially flew to Bombay for a one-night gig.
Kelley has turned the floor plan of her apartment topsy-turvy, using the lounge room as her bedroom, the second bedroom as the living room and the original main bedroom (which doesn't have a view) as a studio where she practices her dance routines in front of a huge mirror.
The main feature of Kelley's bedroom is a huge oregon and pine bed with carved wooden fish on the posts. From Day'N'Night Futons, Neutral Bay, it's partially lime-washed in blue. Furniture maker Geoff Killip, of Queensland, made only eight, each a little different from the other.
"I don't spend a lot of time at home because I travel so much," says Kelley, who will spend the next four weeks touring Australia before finishing the season in Sydney on July 31. "But when I'm home I live in my bedroom, watching TV or talking to friends on the phone, so it made sense to use the biggest room as my bedroom," she says.
The light shade is a Mexican star lamp, a spiky metal lamp dotted with holes which sprays rays of light out into the room. A bucket of candles and incense sticks hangs from the curtain rod in the living room. On the bathroom door is a hand-written copy of the Serenity Prayer, that encourages people to have the courage to change the things they can change and the serenity to accept the things they cannot change. In the kitchen there is a sign with the simple reassuring message "Change is Safe."
"They remind me of what's real. When you work in the entertainment industry there's a lot of superficiality," Kelley says, explaining that she does not want to escape reality but increase her awareness of it.
Kelley's ability to face change with confidence was tested when she was propelled into the role of Rizzo after singer Dannii Minogue fell violently ill on opening night. "I had worked with Dannii during rehearsals. But I hadn't looked at the script for a month and didn't know the songs. I had six hours' notice. It was scary," Kelley says. "During the show I kept running off stage to have a look at the script."
But Kelley got rave reviews. So she was the natural replacement when Minogue had to return to England earlier this month to perform at Royal Albert Hall.
"Change is safe," laughs Kelley, now back to her usual role as assistant choreographer after her two-week on-stage experience. "I'm back to watching and writing down what we can do to improve the show every night," she says.
The Sun-Herald Tempo - 21 June 1998