Musical Theatre Masterclass chats with director / producer Dane Marais about the performing arts industry and all things Xanadu JR.
Theatre is an inherently collaborative art form. It’s people gathering together in a room and creating art. It’s an audience communing and watching something happening live right in front of them. But with Covid-19 who knows how long it will be until we can come together in person?
This experience has created a new sense of space and appreciation for MTM founder and producer Dane Marais.
“I think for many of us in the SA theatre industry it felt like the world ended when covid-19 kicked in. One day you’re in a rehearsal or in production planning and suddenly everything stops – becomes completely silent. People put out of work, uncertain of the way forward and what the future will look like. It’s a scary thought but hasn’t stopped me from doing my job. The goal for me has not changed only the circumstances of the situation has. I’m always determined to find a way to keep theatre alive. When you focus on too much on the problem, you’ll never find the solution” says Dane.
So Dane, tell us a little about Xanadu?
DM: Well the plot of the movie, bizarre as it is, is easy enough to describe and has a similarities to the film. A frustrated artist Sonny Malone decides to open a roller disco after meeting a mysterious skating muse named Kira. He’s helped by a real estate magnate Danny who, decades before, had a relationship with someone who very similarly resembled Kira. Kira’s romantic feelings for Sonny transgress immortal law (thanks to her evil sisters) eventually in the end – their love triumphs over this obstacle granting Kira the gift of Xanadu – which you’ll need to book your tickets to see.
How different is the stage adaptation from the film?
Both versions are relatively the same minus the film’s amateurish special effects, however there are some ridiculously funny moments and reworked scenes in the stage adaptation that was not featured in the film, and in some ways I think the musical pokes fun at the movie in a very sweet, genuine way.
What has the rehearsal process been like?
DM: It’s been a challenging one for us. We were in rehearsal from mid February and scheduled to perform at the Artscape Arena in November of last year before COVID-19 inconveniently kicked in, then we were forced to postpone our production to March 2021 then was further postponed due to restrictions to April 2021. But the experience thus far has been great, mixing roller-skating, pop music and greek mythology. I mean there’s nothing more that can draw you to a musical than that, but one of the joys of this show is that the cast gets to sing and dance to the iconic and classic pop songs of the 80s by Electric Light Orchestra which the kids absolutely love.
This is your first time directing a Broadway JR musical?
DM: I’ve been directing and producing small scale children’s theatre in Paarl for 3 years now and this year I’m in my 4th with Xanadu JR. It’s also the first year that MTM is producing a full on Broadway JR musical and I’m very excited about that. Generally a theatre teacher / director doesn’t just fall into the position and catch it with a celebratory cheer and a sigh. But I think for any teacher or actor it’s a privilege to teach and direct children’s theatre. As performers and creatives we are very passionate individuals and thrilled to be doing what we love. Theatre is a cozy and safe place for many children with teachers who care and show enthusiasm for each child’s unique and special talents and while it can be difficult to fit into a child’s already busy schedule, it’s a valuable option that usually lasts just a few months but can really make a big difference in a child’s growth and development.
What inspired you to produce Xanadu JR?
DM: I was born in the late 80s, not that I remember much about it, but the 80s was such a great era. I love the score and some of the songs in the musical I was already quite familiar with and grew up listening to. It’s such a fun, happy, feel-good musical with a great story that I think children will resonate with and it has rollerskating.
Let’s talk rollerskating. What was the experience like for the cast?
DM: It was a new skill for us, the kids naturally picked it up quite quickly. But it was literally skating 101 for us, holding onto walls, stumbling, falling, flipping, you name it we did it. Hats off to my leading lady Katharine who does 90% of the show on skates. But they’ve all independently practiced and worked really hard on the skating to feel confident and give their best for the audience.
So what can Cape Town audiences expect from Xanadu?
DM: It’s nothing like film, it’s so much better. I expect most of the audience will be coming for a good time and a good laugh and that’s great, because the show is really funny but there is also a lovely message in there, under all the fun; about love and creativity and how important it is to find that in your life. I’m very excited to be debuting this production in Cape Town and I cannot wait for audiences to see it. It’s a real treat.
Xanadu Jr will run at the Artscape Arena from 14 – 17 April 2021. Covid protocols in place and seating is restricted to a 50% capacity. Bookings through Computicket.