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Elizabeth Stanley, Xanadu's muse, speaks with the SGN
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Elizabeth Stanley, Xanadu's muse, speaks with the SGN

by Eric Andrews-Katz - SGN Contributing Writer

Xanadu January 19-24 Paramount Theatre

Elizabeth Stanley is the kind of multitalented actress that Broadway is currently requiring. It is no longer enough to be a triple threat (singing, dancing and acting), and it seems that theatrical actors are being asked to express more of their talents. While performing the role of April in the 2007 revival of Stephen Sondheim's Company, John Doyle's revisionary direction had all the actors not only performing on stage, but also playing their own musical accompaniments. For her latest role as the Greek muse Kira in the hit musical Xanadu, Ms. Stanley is not only required to sing, but is the only character required to be on roller skates through the entire production.

Eric Andrews-Katz: How did you get started on an acting career?

Elizabeth Stanley: I grew up in Quincy, Illinois, about 30 miles away from an active theater and my artistic exposure started when I saw Annie. As a kid, I liked dancing around and stuff, but it wasn't until high school that I gave thought about wanting to do this. I'd thought about teaching, traveling with the Peace Corps, and maybe doing missionary work.

Andrews-Katz: Your Broadway debut was Company, directed by John Doyle. What instrument did you play and what challenges did you face playing and acting simultaneously?

Stanley: I played the tuba, the oboe and the alto sax. I loved the challenges, but it was one of the hardest things to do everything all at once. It was difficult to put the show on its feet and do the staging if you were playing the instruments.

Andrews-Katz: Your next Broadway show was John Waters' Crybaby. What was it like to be part of something from the "concept point" to final production?

Stanley: I learned so much and will forever be grateful for that experience. Unless you've been through it, you can't believe how much blood, sweat and tears goes into shaping something new. There are challenges and triumphs and it's so important to have everyone aligned with a singular vision. It can be an extremely rewarding experience.

Andrews-Katz: What are the major differences between working on a Sondheim production and a John Waters' musical?

Stanley: I think of it more in terms of a new piece versus a revival. With anything by John Waters, there is, perhaps, a different kind of expectation. He has a vision of how it should be and his fans have a very specific expectation of what they want to see.

Andrews-Katz: When you auditioned for Xanadu, were you familiar with the 1980s camp film?

Stanley: I was not. I saw the Broadway production before I ever saw the movie.

Andrews-Katz: Were you a roller skater before you auditioned for Xanadu?

Stanley: No. I had never skated before in my lifetime. It wasn't something that I ever thought I'd be good at (or ever enjoy). I fell when I was 7 years old and sprained my wrist and so never bothered. When I auditioned, I thought, "Well, if they are OK with me not skating, then they knew what they were getting." Their attitude was more, "When you're more comfortable, then we'll move into skating." I never felt any pressure that I had to master something that I wasn't good at right away.

Andrews-Katz: On Broadway, Cheyenne Jackson took over the lead role during previews when a roller skating accident occurred. Have there been any incidents since you joined the cast?

Stanley: When we first started a year ago, one of our skaters had a knee injury and had to leave the show. No one has been severely injured - knock on wood. We [the cast] will continue to accept all positive thoughts and energy out there to prevent it, though. My character is the only one on skates the entire show, so that takes down the danger level. I'm the only person to watch out for.

Andrews-Katz: What changes, if any, from the original film have been made for the stage production?

Stanley: Lots. The soundtrack stays the same, but the story has been beefed up. There's not much of a plot in the movie, but our version has a storyline (albeit a fluffy one). The play's author, Douglas Carter Beane, has woven in tons of '80s lingo and pop culture references. He's also added in many references to Greek mythology. He kept the general idea of the film and transferred it. Unlike other movie musicals that have been redefined on Broadway, this show gives the audience a giant wink from the cast; it's all tongue-in-cheek.

Andrews-Katz: Do you find it easier or more challenging to do a stage production that is based on a previously seen film as opposed to new pieces?

Stanley: I don't know if one is easier than the other. As an artist, I'm really inspired by pieces that are brand-new. I think that's the most exciting thing to be part of. That being said, I think people are willing to be re-inspired by a previous book or movie and audiences love to see something with which they are already familiar. It's a great potion, combining something familiar and something original for the finished product.

Andrews-Katz: Since you are an inspirational muse in Xanadu, what inspires you?

Stanley: That's a deep question for such a fluffy show. So many things inspire me. Strong relationships with family and friends are really lucky and beautiful things to be cherished. The show says that to create art and love is the definition of Xanadu.

Andrews-Katz: What is your definition of the word "Xanadu"?

Stanley: I think it's in the way each of us defines it. If you get to do what you love and share it with others, that's the greatest gift.

Andrews-Katz: What would you like to do next?

Stanley: I like to keep the idea of doing film and television on my radar. I love Broadway, and if they ever brought it back, I'd love to do Evita.

Xanadu started as an unofficial remake of Rita Hayworth's Down to Earth (1947), which was an unofficial sequel to Gene Kelly's Cover Girl (1944). The 1980s film extravaganza starred Olivia Newton-John and Gene Kelly, and featured the music of the Electric Light Orchestra. Reinvented for the Broadway stage in 2007, Xanadu ran for over 500 performances and was nominated for four Tony Awards, including Best Musical.

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Elizabeth Stanley, Xanadu's muse, speaks with the SGN
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