Pretty Little Liars star Janel Parrishhas swapped the drama-filled world of Rosewood for the halls of Rydell High, as she takes on the role of Sandy in the Toronto stage production of Grease the Musical. It’s definitely a change of scenery and character for the actress, who played the mysterious and often conniving Mona Vanderwaal on the hit teen drama for seven seasons. “I would've never thought that anybody would see me as a Sandy,” she told Hello!, adding, “I loved that [director Josh Prince] saw in me a Sandy that wasn't obvious to other people.”
Originally from Hawaii but based in sunny Los Angeles, Janel relocated to the Great White North for the show’s limited run until Jan. 7 at the Winter Garden Theatre. Before the first curtain call on Nov. 1, Janel received the surprise of her life when her longtime love Chris Long got down on one knee while on a stroll in Toronto’s Berczy Park. “Went to the park for a stroll with Klee and came back with a fiancé. I get to marry my best friend and I’m over the moon. I love you @c_long,” wrote the actress on Instagram alongside an adorable snap of the couple sealing the deal with a kiss.
We caught up with the actress backstage for a lengthy chat about everything from putting on the iconic Pink Lady jacket to life in Toronto to her passion for theatre. And yes, we made sure to ask about the Pretty Little Liars spin-off!
Janel, how has it been moving from sunny LA to Toronto?
I'm used to the warmth, so I was worried that this trip would be hard for me, but it's been so beautiful and actually a nice change of pace to have seasons! The people are so nice. I actually told my family that out of all the places that I've spent time away from home, this is my favourite. I feel like I take pride in the city.
Has your dog Klee made any puppy friends?
[When] I go to the dog park, [we] always see the same puppy parents and same dogs and everyone's always very friendly. It's just nice. I feel like you don't often get that in a big city!
How did you react when you found out you got the role of Sandy?
Originally, I was in talks with the producers to play Rizzo, which I thought was really cool. Then when Josh Prince signed on we had a little FaceTime date and he said, ‘I have to tell you, you feel like more of Sandy.' I was so flattered but also surprised because I would've never thought that anybody would see me as a Sandy.
Do you have anything in common with her?
Growing up, I felt like I needed to be in a certain box as far as what I wanted to be in my life. I had two versions of my life that I saw and one was the safe route, where I could stay in Hawaii and I could go to school and get a nice, respectable job. The other route was I could move to LA and I could chase this dream that I had of being an actress. That was terrifying to me, but there was that little voice inside of me that was like, 'No! Dream big, go chase something that's scary!' I think that’s very similar to Sandy. She's trying to fit this idea of who she should be, but there's a little Pink Lady inside of her that's dying to come out.
Why do you think Grease still resonates with audiences?
It's a fun, energetic story that everybody can relate to it. Danny and Sandy, that's a classic love story that everybody knows and I was very honoured to be asked to play Sandy. I still love it every day, I can't believe it's my job.
What has the transition been like from TV to the stage?
I actually grew up doing theater. Growing up, I always said I wanted to be on stage [but] there weren't a lot of roles in musical theater for nine to 10 year olds, so my manager in New York said, ‘why don't you go to LA and I'll have you meet up with an agent there and you can just try doing some TV and film?' I kind of fell into that, but my heart has always been in theatre. It's been a very long time since I've been on the stage this big though! I still love TV and film, but my heart is always here in the theatre.
What do you love most about the world of Grease?
That era is so much fun to live in for two hours. The costumes, the music, I mean, everybody loves 'Grease' and it's just the most fun show ever! I have a Pink Lady jacket that I bought for Halloween five years ago, never expecting that I'd have the chance to really professionally wear one!
Since you love to sing, do you have a dream duet partner?
I love Sam Smith! I’ve just been playing his new album on repeat. I would love to do a song with him, that would be a dream come true.
We miss PLL so much! Can you spill any secrets about the spin off, The Perfectionists?
I'll be coming back as Mona, so it'll be really fun to live in that world again. It's a totally new world but it has the same feel as Pretty Little Liars!