Three time Logie Award Winner and television and theatre veteran, Val Lehman, will play the Rydell High School Head Mistress, Miss Lynch, in the upcoming multi-million dollar production of Grease.
Lehman is perhaps best known for her portrayal of Bea Smith in the iconic Australian television series Prisoner but she also has an extensive stage career. Her theatre credits include A Streetcar Named Desire, A Lie Of The Mind, Trafford Tanzi, Steaming, Applause, Follies, The Wizard Of Oz, Chicago and most recently Aunt Eller in Oklahoma.
In fact, Lehman was brought up in an era when going to the Theatre was the norm. Her leisure time was also spent going to the cinema – Friday nights with her parents and Saturday afternoons to a matinee and three times a week during school holidays
And then there was the opera: "In 1948 just after WW1, in order to get the populace used to the idea we were about to receive a large number of Mediterranean migrants, the Italian Opera Company toured Australia.," Lehman begins. "Aged 5, I was taken to see the whole series..Madam Butterfly, Aida, La Boheme ,Tosca, La Traviata, De Fleidermous, Cav. and Pag… When we got to the theatre my mother would purchase the programme and read me the synopsis. I had no trouble following the story. The fact the operas were sung in Italian, never worried me in the slightest. I was immediately hooked by that fabulous sound and spectacle. For my 8th birthday, I was given a wind up gramophone, and my first recordings were operatic arias. I’d make my friends sit and watch, whilst I told the stories and acted out the best bits, my favourite being Cho Cho San’s tragic suicide, and Tosca murdering Scapia. Who knew all that practice would be put to such good use decades later!! I read well, so at school was chosen to read the major roles when studying Shakespeare – something else I just loved. "
Lehman won singing prizes at school and demonstrated some self described histrionic ability, so at age 14 it was decided she should attend the National Theatre Drama school. "This was sadly for only a short time, as they moved out of town and too far away for me to travel alone," Lehman explains. " However the seeds were sown. I enjoyed those classes enormously, and when I went to RMIT to study fine art, I spent more time rehearsing the revue than painting."
Lehman won the coveted Silver Logie and Best Actress Logie in 1981 and 1982 for her work in Prisoner. An experience she describes as very exciting telling me there is not much more rewarding than being recognised by one’s audience and peers. Nevertheless, a long road travelled for Lehman having experienced being nominated and not winning. As we know, acting is such a fickle business. Lehman describes the theatre as a selfish mistress. "She can be cruel, and demanding, and you have to be prepared give," says Lehman. "And she is fickle – you may be rewarded, and there is nothing quite like the buzz she has to offer, when it’s all working well, or you may be tossed aside. And that’s the cruellest thing of all – being denied the work in the profession you love."
Lehman had lived and worked in the UK in the 90's earning critical recognition for her stage work in Summer Of The 17th Doll, Lady Chatterley’s Lover, Driving Miss Daisy and Steel Magnolias. Citing, in fact, her role as Miss Daisy as her most enjoyable and challenging role to date. "… it probably gave me to opportunity to discover and explore a lot more of my acting skills."
Having worked as an actor in the UK, Lehman shares some of her observations and discovered truisms:" There is of course a lot more work available in the UK than in Australia therefore many British actors can afford to specialise in Classical Theatre or Musical Theatre, Television Drama, Television comedy or Film etc; where we Australians generally have to be able to do it all, in order to eat regularly. Getting an agent interested in you can be very difficult in the UK. I met several Australian who were struggling with that. I was most fortunate my on-screen work was known and so I was picked up by a reputable agent. I also learned a few things including our Australian crews are the best!"
Leading Australian theatre producer John Frost describes the journey towards discovering his Miss Lynch. "We searched the length and breadth of Australia to find the perfect actress to play opposite our stellar cast, and found the wonderful Val Lehman." Lehman describes her Grease journey as luck. "John Frost saw me playing Aunt Eller in Harvest Rain’s production of Oklahoma and I was offered the role. It was as if I had been rewound and my heart started beating again. I am so looking forward to the whole thing. I feel comfortable and very at home in a theatre."
This new production of Grease stars musical theatre favourite Rob Mills as Danny and rising star Gretel Scarlett as Sandy, alongside Bert Newton as veteran disc jockey Vince Fontaine, Todd McKenney as Teen Angel, Anthony Callea as Johnny Casino, Lucy Maunder as Rizzo and Stephen Mahy as Kenickie. The cast also includes Francine Cain (Frenchy), Chris Durling (Doody), Sam Ludeman (Sonny), Duane McGregor (Roger) and Laura Murphy (Jan).
So Grease is indeed the word – says Lehman: " The fun starts the minute you set foot in the theatre. Audiences will dance out of the theatre bubbling over with the joy of the experience. I predict you are going to want to see it and share it with friends more than once!"
GREASE will open at Brisbane’s Lyric Theatre on August 20, with seasons at the Sydney Lyric Theatre from October 13, and at Her Majesty’s Theatre, Melbourne from January 2, 2014. New seats have just been released for the Brisbane season, and new seats will be on sale for Sydney from June 2.
Her Majesty’s Theatre, Melbourne
Season: From Thursday 2 January 2014
Opening Night: Sunday 5 January 2014
Performance Times: Tues–Sat 8.00pm, Matinees Wed 1pm, Sat 2pm & Sun 3pm
Price: From $64.90*
Bookings: ticketek.com.au or 1300 795 012