It's always nice to see a fellow hometown girl making it in the big city â which for me is what has happened to newly minted Broadway star Ashley Spencer. We went to the same high school in Canton, OH (Jackson â for those of you who know the area, which is famous for The Pro Football Hall of Fame and... well, that's really it) although she was (cough) a bit younger than me! But after not having very much encouragement in high school and not being from what I would call a hotbed of theater, she has really made a name for herself -- first as a contestant on the reality show Grease: You're the One that I Want, (although not winning), then making her Broadway debut as Amber Von Tussle in Hairspray. And now she's recently taken over the role as Sandy in Grease which was played by the reality show's winner Laura Osnes for the first year of its run. The role of Danny has also been recast with another runner up from the show Derek Keeling.
The 23 year old Ashley is a picture perfect Sandy (she started her career touring as Barbie in Barbie: Fairytopia â- yes it's okay to hate her a little!), and she's still bubbling with excitement over her induction to the Broadway community while making New York her new home. I recently got the chance to chat with her about being Sandy and her move from small town Ohio to New York.
It wasn't your first Broadway opening night, but were you more nervous to open as Amber Von Tussle in Hairspray?
It's kind of stressful in a way because you know coming in after Laura [Osnes] thereâs a lot at stake I guess and I just want to make sure that I did the role justice especially for Jim Jacobs who created the role and knows exactly who Sandy is. And I just really wanted to do my best and do a great job and yeah playing the lead in a show, as opposed to being a principle is completely different.
What's it like to now be a part of the Broadway community?
Everyone on Broadway is kind of a big family, and it's smaller than you think. Everyone is really close knit, and you see people on the street on a daily basis -- even people that are not in your show with you -- and it's wonderful to see everyone you work with on a daily basis. They become your family away from your family. I've really been enjoying myself; it's been incredible.
I've heard that you never had a part in the high school musicals and didn't even make the show choir.
I was in 42nd Street one year, but I was in the ensemble. And I auditioned for principle roles, but never got cast, and I remember my senior year auditioning for Oklahoma and getting cast in the ensemble again and I turned it down and decided not to do it. I just thought "I'm just going to enjoy my senior year," but it actually fueled me to do this.
So how did you get to Broadway then?
My first breakthrough I think was Barbie: Fairytopia. There was something in the newspaper about it and my mom threw me on a plane to come to New York by myself. It was only the second time I'd ever been to New York, so I stayed at a friend of a friend of a friend's apartment by myself -- she wasn't even there. It was scary. I was like 20 years old and I ended up booking that job and working, and when that was over I moved to New York and was only here for like a month and a half and then flew to LA for the Grease [You're the One that I Want] audition and ended up doing the show and didn't win. [I then] came back to New York and auditioned for Hairspray. and the rest is history.
Were you close with Derek on the TV show?
I actually wasn't. I mean we were friends but we didn't really work with each other on the show. We did one little dance number together and that was it. So actually getting to play Sandy with him is [great] because he went on tour for two years with Grease, as Danny and I've never done any form of Grease at all. It really helped because he knows the show like the back of his hand and we kind of formed our own little relationship together as Danny and Sandy.
How do you like New York now?
Of course I'm a Midwest girl and I'm a homebody, so initially moving to New York when I started Hairspray was hard because you're just trying to adapt to being away from your family and not really knowing anyone. So when I first came here it was really hard but the more and more Hairspray became my family. And the longer I was here, it grew on me, and I've kind of formed my own little life. It's weird; I have a career now and I feel like a big kid. It's cool.
Pictured is Derek Keeling and Ashley as Sandy and Danny and Ashley at the opening night of Grease last year. Photos courtesy of BroadwayWorld.com