Up and coming actor Annie Chen stars in the highly-anticipated Grease – The Musical set to make a limited run at the Winter Garden Theatre (189 Yonge St) in Toronto, Canada from November 9th till December 10th, 2017. Annie plays the principal role of Frenchy in the new Canadian production directed by acclaimed Broadway director and choreographer Josh Prince (Beautiful, The Carole King Musical; Shrek, The Musical). Annie will star alongside actors Janel Parrish (Pretty Little Liars) as Sandy, Katie Findlay (How to Get Away with Murder, The Carrie Diaries) as Rizzo and introducing Dylan S. Wallach as Danny.
Annie Chen also recurs in the hit political drama series Designated Survivor starring alongside Kiefer Sutherland as Lily, the president’s aide. The second season is currently airing on ABC (United States) and CTV (Canada). Born and raised in Taiwan, Annie Chen found her passion for the performing arts at a young age. Annie trained at the prestigious School of Toronto Dance Theatre where shortly after graduating she landed a gig dancing for Lady Gaga at the 2011 Much Music Video Awards (MMVAs) and PSY at the 2013 Much Music Video Awards (MMVAs). She also performed at the closing ceremony for the 2015 Pan American Games. Through the world of dance, Annie discovered her love for acting and honed her craft by training with some of the top professionals in the industry including Bruce Clayton of The Professional Actors Lab, award-winning actor Rosemary Dunsmore and John Boylan of Centre for the Arts. Since then, Annie’s film and television credits have included “Full Out” (Netflix), “The Strain” (FX), “Odd Squad” (TVOKids) and “Private Eyes” (Global).
Outside of the film and television industry, Annie has recently taken up archery and enjoys different restaurants around the city. Understanding the importance of philanthropy, she supports causes that are close to her heart including the Annex Cat Rescue and the Ontario SPCA, an organization dedicated to the prevention of cruelty to animals and the promotion of animal welfare.
We had the absolute pleasure of chatting with Annie about “Grease” and playing Frenchy. Check out the interview below. Oh, and “Grease is the word!”
Thank you for granting the interview, Annie! “Grease” is one of our favorites! You are currently starring in Toronto’s newest production of “Grease” playing Frenchy. What is it like playing an iconic role originally played by actress Didi Conn?
When I first got the call that I booked the role of Frenchy in Grease: The Musical I was over the moon. I grew up watching Grease the movie and Frenchy was my favorite character that I related to, so this is absolutely a dream come true. It has been a journey getting to know Frenchy. Our fearless director Josh Prince wanted to steer away from any stereotypes of how women were perceived in that era. He wanted to find a happy medium of keeping the culture and energy of the late 1950s but adding a modern twist of girl power in there- which I loved. Frenchy is a fun and quirky peacekeeper amongst a variety of other big personalities within the Pink Ladies.
Everyone likes to play an iconic character their way. Did you add any nuances to the role to make Frenchy your own?
I wanted to create a version of Frenchy that people could relate to in their own lives, especially the younger generation. She is gutsy, honest, dreams of falling in love and becoming a successful entrepreneur, but like all of us occasionally falls on her face and has to get back up into the game of life.
Did you watch the movie to prepare for your role?
Before rehearsal started I did a lot of research. I watched Grease the movie, the live Grease taping where Carly Rae Jepson played Frenchy, as well as the original screenplay. It was very interesting to observe the different versions of each production. We are featuring the original book and score by Jim Jacobs and Warren Casey. In this production, the biggest number for Frenchy (and a climactic point of the character’s arch) is the iconic number ‘Beauty School Drop Out’ I can’t give too much away, but let’s just say it has additional comedic elements that make it definitively different than the version audiences are used to.
What is your favorite “Grease” song and why?
I literally love every single song (And I’m not being bias). We had the legendary doo-wop king Phil Burton (Human Nature) rearrange certain songs and personally come in for rehearsals. If I had to choose I would say ‘Grease’ (Is the Word) because it sounds incredible and I grew up singing it with my dad. ‘Beauty School Drop Out’ of course is a favorite because the lyrics are so ruthless and sometimes when you’ve hit rock bottom you need to be told how it is.
Did you have to do any special training for the role?
To be honest, I barely had time between booking the role and starting rehearsals. I had just flown back from Taiwan two days prior to the contract starting! I was rehearsing with a 12-hour jet lag as well as a sinus infection. However, I am always training and staying updated so besides being physically exhausted, I felt prepared.
We love the diversity of the cast! This is what makes the production extra special. We enjoy seeing roles casted based on talent. Do you believe that the entertainment industry is finally embracing diversity in casting?
This is a hefty subject. I believe that the entertainment industry has made big leaps in terms of casting diversity. There’s definitely still room for improvement, especially in musical theatre. I come from a film and TV background and have noticed a big difference with more recent releases as well as my own auditions compared to when I first started. I am very proud that the casting team of this production of Grease has Janel Parrish as our Sandy as well as a culturally diverse ‘Pink Ladies’. It allows the production to connect with more people especially in such a diverse city like Toronto.
What can the audience expect from the Toronto production?
To be entertained, hooked, and fall in love again with all the classics of Grease. This production has truth, love, a modern twist, and is unapologetic while maintaining the originality of the songs. Basically its pure awesomeness in a room. So come see the show at the Winter Garden Theatre downtown Toronto and watch me sing, dance, and act my face off!
Is there anything you would like to share with our readers that we haven’t asked?
I’ve got some things in the works that I can’t talk about yet so stay tuned! Follow me on Instagram and Twitter @annie8chen.
Editor’s Note: Josh Prince creates a fresh revival of the greatest high school rock musical ever written, sending Grease back to its roots on the gritty streets of 1950s North Chicago while incorporating the most beloved songs from the film in spectacular new arrangements. For tickets, please visit greaseonstage.com.
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