Joseph Corella’s story is even more inspiring than most. The North Phoenix native — who is currently appearing in the national tour of Grease — recently legally wed his partner and has a coming out story many young people can relate to as well.
Corella said he’s having a great time as an ensemble member of the cast of Grease, headlined by American Idol Taylor Hicks. As a kid, he would watch the John Travolta-Olivia Newton John movie repeatedly. “I watched it so much, I threw the tape away so I’d stop watching it,” he said during a telephone interview from Dallas where the show played before coming to Phoenix. “It’s fun to be a part of it, and I got to meet (co-creator) Jim Jacobs. It’s quite an honor to get to know him. It’s such a great show, you can’t help but have fun with it.”
Hicks stars as Teen Angel in the show. “He has a lot of fans, obviously, and it brings in a whole new group of people. It’s fun. He’s such a great guy. Tonight we’re actually doing a rodeo thing that he put together. He’s taking us all out.”
Corella is excited to be coming home to perform. “It’s crazy because I remember seeing shows at Gammage when I was a kid, and to be coming back in a national tour is really nice – it comes full circle. I’m going to see a lot of my high school friends, a lot of my family. I’m probably going to be really drained that week, but it’s going to be a great reunion.”
Corella and his older brother were both dancers, but Corella knew he wanted to do theater when he saw The Phantom of the Opera for the first time. After a couple of years in LA and a stint performing on a cruise ship, Corella moved to New York, where he ended up in All Shook Up with Cheyenne Jackson. “I learned the show in six days,” he said. Then he did regional work, including playing Juan in Altar Boyz.
Corella’s brother is also gay. Corella said he came out to his brother before his brother could come out to him. “He was in utter shock. I don’t think he knew what to do,” Corella said. “From then on, he’s been such a support. You know, we’ve gone through the same things together. I can’t believe it. It’s a beautiful thing, that’s for sure.”
The biggest event in Corella’s life was his marriage to fellow actor Jonathan Sandler on June 30 in Massachusetts. “It’s been an experience – I grew up in a very religious family and I really pushed myself beyond that. And now I’m married and in this day and age, it’s a new thing for gay people to be able to marry. I’m so happy to have found someone that I want to spend the rest of my life with.” The couple bought a house in Hoboken, NJ. “We’re starting a life together and I feel so happy to be at this point in my life.
“I’ve gone through a lot as a gay man, just being suppressed and battling my own issues with believing it’s OK to be gay. Now I just feel that I’m ready to stand up and say, ‘Look, it is great. I’m a married man,’ and to represent the gay community.
“I’m not going to lie, it was difficult. I think that my generation is understanding things a little bit better. I’m really hoping that with the gay community speaking up and standing up for their rights that things will progress faster.”
Asked what advice he’d give gay young people, Corella said, “We all have an instinct that tells us it’s OK, and it’s hard to trust that. Trust yourself and believe in yourself. Trust that voice inside you. That’s what I wish I would have done. I listened to so many people, but I wish I’d listened to that voice that told me it’s OK. Now I do, but for the longest time, I didn’t. Get involved and just believe in yourself.”
A chance meeting at a Hairspray audition brought Corella and his other half together, but it wasn’t until a year later when they reconnected that Corella knew that Sadler was “the one.” “I’d never felt like that before, and it’s never changed. It’s been three years now.”
Corella’s husband is in the cast of the Broadway show Mary Poppins and Corella would love for them to be able to perform together someday. He said it’s hard to be apart, but that they make a point to visit regularly.
For now, he’s making do by having his dog on tour with him, and he looks forward to connecting with the gay community in some way while he is here. With his warm and outgoing nature, it’s a sure bet audiences will find themselves “hopelessly devoted to him”.
Meanwhile, Corella has twice been named “Hunk Du Jour” by the website of the same name. The down-to-earth performer laughed about the honor, explaining that it came after he appeared on The Price is Right. Corella and a group of other Grease cast members “came on down” one day, and Corella ended up getting on the show and winning prizes, including a dining room set and Royal Doulton china.
“It’s funny because my husband and I didn’t put that on our wedding registry because we figured, ‘China? Who needs china?’ It was also funny because before I went on, my husband said, “Win us a dining room set,” and the next thing you know, there I am on stage with a dining room set. You get so nervous when you’re up there, let me tell you. Those games seem so easy when you’re watching them on TV, but suddenly when you’re up there and faced with cameras and everything, I couldn’t even add two plus two.“
Grease begins its Phoenix run tonight at the Dodge Theatre and plays through October 25. For more information on this and future performance dates and locations, visit the show's official website.
Interview by Neil Cohen, resident film critic of Movie Dearest and Phoenix's Echo Magazine.