Shenanigans and hijinks of mythic proportions are due to roll through the historic Hedback Theatre this weekend as Footlite Musicals opens its latest Young Artist Production, Xanadu. And I mean literally roll because for parts of this show, the all-teen cast will be on roller skates.
Xanadu is a romantic fantasy that manages to merge Greek mythology with the American pop culture scene of the early 80's. The story transports audiences from Mt. Olympus to Venice Beach as Kira, a beautiful Greek muse, descends from the heavens to help Sonny create the first roller disco. When she falls for mortal Sonny, her sisters become jealous, and chaos ensues.
This means glittery costumes and disco balls. Oh, and of course - "a lot of Olivia Newton-John," according to director Ed Trout.
"[The music] is really fun because it's different," says 18-year-old Drew Bryson, a member of the ensemble. He added that "Strange Magic" was his favorite, but he also likes "Evil Woman" because it's "sassy and different."
The cast and crew have been preparing for the show for three to four hours a night for the past two months and that included finding the cast's skating legs. The cast had a roller skating party to get to know both each other and actors that had to roller skate for the performance even took lessons at Wheels of Wonder with coaches Bill and Carolyn Ferraro.
"I fell a few times, but it was worth it," says 17-year-old Joshua Brunsting. "It was a blast."
Now after months of preparation, the cast and crew say they have become like a family.
"It's a brotherhood, a sisterhood," producer Marianne Malcomson says. "They take care of each other."
"Everybody cares about you," Brunsting says. "It's a family feel."
The Young Artists Productions program gives young aspiring performers, ages 13-18, from across the city the chance to perform and improve onstage while forming lasting friendships. But according to Malcolmson, the program also changes the performers personally.
"You can watch these kids become so much more mature," she says. "The experience is life-changing. It's magic."
The young performers sense that, too.
17-year-old Ivy Bott and 19-year-old Anna Christianson perform as Mepomene and Calliope, the evil and immortal muses. The two girls say they have been performing in one way or another since they were young, but working with Xanaduhas taught them even more about performing and friendship.
"I've learned not to be afraid of my choices or of what people think," Bott says.
18-year-old Austin Russell's booming voice helped land him the role of Zeus, the "god of all gods" and head of Mt. Olympus. In the role, "I really push my voice," Russell says. "This was a chance to challenge myself."
Like many of the youth that participate in Footlite's Young Artist Productions, Russell says he has found his purpose through performing. "It makes me feel like I can change something," he says. "Like I can actually do something."
Brunsting agreed. "Footlite is the place to be," he says. "I've never had this feeling anywhere else."