The Palace Theatre starts out 2014 with a wild addition to Artistic Director Carl Rajotte’s already-famous theatrical choreography: roller skates.
Based on the horrifically-reviewed 1980 film starring Olivia Newton-John that barely broke even at box offices, the stage production of Xanadu takes what’s good about the film — the music, which, despite everything else that was horrible, helped the movie become a cult classic — and fits it onstage. The result, say Palace actors and staff, is quite entertaining.
Whitney Meyer, who plays Clio (Kira), said in a phone interview that her stomach hurt from laughing so hard during the first couple days of rehearsals. She was at rehearsals, skates strapped on, during the call.
“The onstage version is hilarious. It’s like a cartoon, over-the-top version of the movie, not meant to be taken literally,” she said.
This is the second time at the Palace she’ll depict an Olivia Newton-John film role; last year, she played Sandy in Grease. Clio, she said, is a similar kind of character. She’s the sweet, pretty, innocent girl that every guy dreams of, but on caffeine.
“It’s an insane amount of sweetness! … But the music is pretty fun, too,” she said.
Xanadu is a fantastical story about mythology, love, art and disco. The stage production follows the Greek muses (who are daughters of Zeus) in their attempts to inspire a Los Angeles chalk artist, Sonny Malone, who’s dissatisfied with his work and is determined to kill himself. Clio comes up with the idea to inspire him with 1980s acrobatics: a roller disco. Zeus agrees to the plan, but he requires that his daughters be disguised as mortals and that they not fall in love while on Earth.
The muses decide to change their names, sport Australian accents and wear contemporary clothing — it’s the ’80s, so it’s bright colors and leg-warmers. The roller disco would occur in a long-abandoned theater called Xanadu. Yet, not all of the muses are pleased with this plan; two of Clio’s sisters, Melpomene and Calliope, are jealous that Clio is the leader of the muses and ploy to have her banished by tricking her to fall in love with Sonny.
Needless to say, it happens. But in this show, you might notice a bit of extra chemistry in the leading romantic pair. Whitney Meyer (Clio) and Nathan Meyer (Sonny) are in love offstage, too.
“I love performing with my wife,” Nathan said over the phone at rehearsals.
He describes his character, Sonny, as a chill, California airhead.
“It’s my favorite thing the world. We love being together and to be able to do what we love together. … That was the No. 1 pull for me in doing this show.”
The pair also performed together at the Palace in Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat and in Hairspray, in which they performed as Amber and Link.
Carl Rajotte had been wanting to bring Xanadu to the Palace for some time now, Palace Director of Marketing Chris Lockwood said in a phone interview. This year’s show lineup provided a perfect opportunity.
“When we were looking at filling the space this year, there were specific things we wanted to do. We realized we didn’t have a real kid-friendly show, which we felt was really important to put on this year, something that children could come to. … Carl also thought it would be a great challenge, to bring roller skating into the choreography,” Lockwood said.
Xanadu is a small cast — nine actors total — and while most of the actors had experience roller skating, few had ever performed in skates, onstage or otherwise. (The exception is Nathan Meyer; he plays Sonny but has performed as Hot Blades Harry in Urinetown.)
Whitney Meyer says the roller skating adds a lot of fun but a bit of pressure for the performers.
“I grew up roller skating. The last time I went was five years ago, in college with some friends. … We’ve gone to the rink once as a cast,” Whitney Meyer said.
If you haven’t seen the film version, no fear; neither has Jenna Kantor, who plays Calliope.
“They’re not connected very much at all,” Kantor said, also during rehearsals over the phone. “It’s [the play] mostly making fun of the film’s cheesiness. I think people will laugh a lot and enjoy the humor.”
As seen in the January 9th, 2014 issue of The Hippo