New film gives nod to days trying out for 'Grease' musical
Let's just say that Kathleen Monteleone knows a little bit about what it's like to be on a national television competition, having once vied for a starring role of a favorite Broadway musical.
That's because Monteleone, a 2001 Tigard High School graduate, once tried out for the role of Sandy on NBC's "Grease: You're the One That I Want."
Now Monteleone has taken some of those experiences — the highs and the lows — to a starring role in "American Reject," now on Amazon and Apple's streaming services.
Not only did Monteleone also write the script for the production, but her husband, Frank, produced the film.
Monteleone's multidisciplinary talents were on display when she was a Tiger, too. At Tigard High, she participated in choir and dance.
A short time after graduating from Tigard High in 2001, Monteleone moved to New York City, where she attended Marymount Manhattan College. She earned a degree in theater and musical theater.
She now splits her time between New York and New Orleans.
"I've always had the dream to move to New York and pursue my Broadway aspirations," Monteleone said during a recent phone interview.
In 2007, her career got a huge kickstart when she became a contestant on the NBC reality show "Grease: You're the One That I Want." After joining a huge cattle call of hundreds of actors and actresses, Monteleone became one of seven contestants trying out for the starring role of Sandy, all with high hopes of making it onstage with the revival of the Broadway musical.
"There were about 8 million viewers a week," Monteleone recalled. "It was a live show every Sunday."
During its run, where fans voted for the winners, the show attracted numerous supporters from Tigard, many of whom would gather in a local bar each week to cheer her on.
Monteleone made it into the top four on the show before being cut.
After that experience, she landed a role as Elle Woods in a national tour of "Legally Blonde: The Musical" and then starred as Dede Halcyon-Day in "Tales of the City: The Musical."
Monteleone estimates it took her about five years to come up with the completed script of "American Reject."
It is loosely based on her time trying out for "Grease: You're the One That I Want," noting there are lots of "Easter egg" moments filled throughout the production.
"It's really a story of someone who has to find what the true meaning of winning is for her, with the backdrop of all the things you love about reality television and kooky characters, and it's a true 'coming home' story," Monteleone said.
Monteleone said those who enjoy "American Idol" will like "American Reject" as well.
Director Milo Hunter shot the film in 15 days.
The musical, which has been getting lots of positive press, features Monteleone as Kay, who ends up living with her mother after being cut for the music show she's auditioning for. It includes appearances by Rebecca Black (who had the dubious hit "Friday" in 2011) and Angelica Hale (who was a runner-up on "America's Got Talent" in 2017).
Billy Ray Cyrus is in the movie as well.
"He plays himself as a 'judge,' which was a huge win for us to get him. He's just a gem of a person and very fitting being such a musical veteran to be one of the judges on the show," Monteleone said. Other judges in the film include Juvenile the Rapper, a personal favorite of Monteleone's, and Keala Settle, who appeared in "The Greatest Showman" and whom Monteleone calls "a great performer."
Monteleone describes the 90-minute film as an "indie on steroids," meaning that while it's a musical that contains original music, it didn't have an enormous budget to work with.
In a nod to Oregon, the story takes place in Sandy, Oregon, although no exterior shots of the town are included.
"The feedback I'm getting is that they've laughed, they've cried. So, it's a fun ride," Monteleone said of the film.
Although she mostly splits her time between the Big Apple and the Big Easy, Monteleone tries to get back to the Pacific Northwest as often as she can — something that can be difficult at times since she's the mother of four children, including five-month-old twins.
While she loves acting, Monteleone said she wants to direct in the future, too. She said being able to write and produce has allowed her to have more control over how a production turns out.
"It's extremely hard but very rewarding," she said.
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