Forty years ago, Didi Conn starred as the iconic Frenchy, the Beauty School Dropout in Grease. Now she's starring in a new play that looks back on years of friendship.
QLife: You have an inescapable role.
Didi: I do. Yes.
QLife: You are Frenchy. And you always will be. I was so excited to get this interview with you because it's like "How do you not interview Frenchy". What does that iconic role mean to you?
Didi: I'm so grateful. It was the role of somebody who was a good friend, who cared about the Pink Ladies. She cared about their hair and their makeup and how they looked and all that she could do for them, rather than a part like a psycho or some kind of murderer, where people who meet you on the street say "Were you that psycho?" With me, it's "Weren't you Frenchy?" It's always happy.
I'm grateful to have had a role that makes people happy. I've got some upgrades on airlines. There's an 8x10 photo on my dry cleaners wall. Just seeing how happy it makes people. And the friends that I made in that movie. I think that we were all cast in that movie because we're all like a bunch of crazy kids. We still are. We got old but we still are. Olivia and I are still good friends. Olivia and John had a Christmas CD a couple of years ago and I did an interview with them on Sirius Radio for an hour. How fun was that!
QLife: You’re in Las Vegas for a play.
Didi: It’s a play called Middletown by Dan Clancy. We're doing it on the 31st, 1st, and 2nd at The Smith Center in Cabaret Jazz. It's a beautiful story of friends for 33 years. It's been interesting because this is the Grease's 40th Anniversary and we've had so many wonderful reunions. When you think about 40 years, 33 sounds like nothing. It's a beautiful story about friends and what friends do for each other and how much a part of each other's lives we are and how we help each other influence each other. It's a really well-written and very sweet and warm story.
QLife: Tell me about your role.
Didi: I'm the only one who's still alive. I'm telling this story about this friendship that I had for 33 years and then the people come alive and tell the story with me. My character’s name is Peg. I taught Spanish. It’s very different than most of the roles that I've played. Most of the roles are very ebullient and out there—you know, Frenchy kind of roles. Peg is more interior. She's the good foil for her friend Dottie. Usually, I play Dottie, but Cindy [Williams] is playing Dottie. I'm usually not the straight man, but it's Peg's story that she's telling.
QLife: Everyone knows you as Frenchy, but you've had an incredible career. Tell us a little more about what you've done.
Didi: I’ve had some great, great experiences on Broadway. I played the lead in Lost in Yonkers. I've been in Vagina Monologues all over Off-Broadway and hosting Grease single-a-longs at the Hollywood Bowl for 18,000 people. I've done that several times. They are so much fun.
I'm doing Middletown because it's like my launching pad. It's exciting. I've raised a son who is autistic and he's now living and working on a farm in upstate New York. Now I have space to do what I love doing the most. This has been my year of working. I just came off of doing a goofy assignment which was a show called Dancing On Ice in London. It's like Dancing with the Stars.
QLife: And do you ice skate?
But I learned. And I had the most wonderful partner. He was so strong. We are paired with a pro. That was on a big ice rink and costumes and learning a new routine every week. That was exciting and scary. What was ironic was that everyone was so afraid I was going to fall and break something, while I was away my husband fell and broke his hip so I had to come home.
I wrote a play for myself. It's called “Holding My Own,” and it's about a middle-aged woman, me, who has suffered some knockdowns, but rehabilitates herself by learning how to box. I've been studying boxing for eight years.
QLife: How has been to raise an autistic son?
Didi: The blessing of having my son has been learning patience. You have certain expectations for your children of what it's going to be like to be a mother. Daniel's adopted so that was a whole other way of becoming a mother. But still, it's your baby. I was the first to hold him. But it's really, really scary.
When Danny was diagnosed, it was kind of the dark ages. I've been a celebrity spokesperson for Autism Speaks for the last 15 years. Anything you need to know is on their web site with recommendations, doctors, therapy. None of this was available. My pediatrician said “Oh it's nothing—it’s just the ‘terrible two’s’. He's screaming a lot.” But it wasn't that. You learn patience. You learn tiny increments in a positive direction is so exciting. A lot of parents miss that because they are pushing their children to get ahead, or what their expectations are and pushing them rather than seeing where they are in the moment. You're forced to do that with a child who has extreme sensitivity to sound, who could run away at any moment, who has many tantrums and doesn't sleep at night. So even though I was on Broadway three times during this period of growing up they were for short runs.
QLife: Have you gotten to explore Vegas.
Didi: Not at all. I want to have lunch at the pool. I'm going to see Beatles Love.
QLife: One last question... Did you go back to high school?
Didi: [Laughs] In Grease 2. I finished. I didn't get into chemistry, but yeah, yeah I did.