The Gay Men’s Chorus of Washington, DC is performing the musical XANADU this weekend, with a cast of dozens. Director Craig Cipollini tells us how he pulled it off.
Joel: Why did you want to direct this production of XANADU?
Craig: I was interested in directing this show for two reasons: first – I am a fan of the movie and I wanted to bring back the large-scale aspects of the movie to the stage version. While I Ioved the stage version on Broadway, one of the things I missed was the sheer spectacle that the movie had. I looked on this production as an opportunity to bring that back. Secondly, I think that behind all the camp of the show, there is a message about following your heart and not giving up on your dreams. I think that’s an important message to get out there.
How many cast members do you have in this production?
We have 70 members in the cast total. That number includes both an ensemble and an onstage “Greek Chorus,” which we’ve added into the show.
When was the first time you were introduced to XANADU the movie and XANADU the stage musical? What was your first impression of the movie/show?
I first saw the movie XANADU when it was released in the theaters in 1980. I am one of the few people who actually saw the movie in a movie theater. I liked the movie when I first saw it, but I was only 12, and at that age, you’re a lot less critical than an adult. Watching it again years later, I realized that the movie had a lot of problems with it, but I still had a fondness for it. The movie has a charm and appeal all its own. I saw the stage version twice on Broadway – first with the original cast right after it opened, and then again shortly before it closed. I thought the stage show was brilliant, and one of the funniest shows I’d ever seen. I think they found a great way to spoof the movie without being cruel. There are still many people out there – myself included – who have affection for the movie and I think they found the right balance of spoof and tribute.
What were auditions like? How many people auditioned?
I don’t remember for sure, but we probably had about 90 people audition for the show. We first asked people to sing a pop song from the 70s or 80s for us, then we had people read from the script. hen we called back people for a dance audition and in some cases, to read again for certain parts.
Introduce us to your leads and tell us what you admire most about their performances?
The role of Kira is being played by Cory Claussen. Cory has played a number of lead roles (for us and for other theaters), but this is a departure for him. He usually plays what I call the “typical leading man” type of part, so it’s been great to see him stretch and play broader comedy which he does very well.
The role of Sonny Malone is played by Kip Jacobs. Kip has a beautiful voice and I love listening to him sings these songs – absolutely beautiful. Kip and Cory work so well together and have great chemistry.
I also want to mention Ryan Williams who plays Melpomene and Stuart Goldstone who plays Calliope. They are the two comic villains of the show, and to say they steal the show is possibly an understatement. These two guys play off each other so well. They are brilliant comedians and I’ve been so pleased with the things they have discovered during the rehearsal process.
The stage version in NYC was a hit because it made fun of the movie and everyone on the stage was having a great time. Do you do the same and what makes your production so special and unique?
Yes, absolutely. While we aren’t copying the NY production, we are still making fun of things, and the cast is having a blast. The cast has found a way to make these characters their own – to bring their own spin on things so to speak. They’ve played around a lot at rehearsals, and come up with some really funny stuff.
The show was performed on roller skates in NYC. Are your cast members on roller skates?
Yes, the cast is on roller skates. You can’t avoid it really, since the show is about a roller disco! Not the entire cast – we have 12 people in the cast on roller skates – the two leads (Kira and Sonny) are on skates as well as 10 other members of the cast.
What have been some of the challenges you have had directing this production?
The biggest challenge for me was just the sheer size of it. With a cast of 70 people, that’s a lot of people to block and choreograph. The character work came very easily I have been blessed with a great cast, who bring a lot of great ideas to the table, so that part was easy. But when you’re dealing with a huge cast, it can be daunting at times.
What has been the most fun rehearsing the show and how long have you been rehearsing? What is your favorite song, costume, and scene in the show?
Our initial cast meeting and read-through was in December, but the bulk of the rehearsals have been the last 10 weeks. And I think it has truly been one of the funniest rehearsal processes I’ve ever had. And I mean funny in a good way. I don’t think I’ve ever laughed so much. My favorite song is probably “Evil Woman.” It’s a great song, but more importantly the two gentlemen playing Melpomene and Calliope are simply a joy to watch onstage. They tear up the stage with this number. My favorite costume is the costume worn by the Hermes character. His headpiece is amazing! (He also gets one of the best lines in the show). And my favorite scene is the first scene in the show where we meet the Muses for the first time. They all are having such a great time with the whole scene (and the song as well) and it’s just a very funny scene.
Why should local theatregoers come and see XANADU?
Our production of XANADU will be unlike any other production. Nowhere else will you see a cast of 70 doing this show – and all men at that. It’s also such a fun show, with great music. I sit watching the rehearsals with a big smile on my face. You just can’t help it – the show is infectious!
The Gay Men’s Chorus of Washington, DC’s XANADU is playing at Lisner Auditorium at George Washington University – 730 21 St., NW, in Washington DC – Tonight – Friday, March 15th at 8 pm;Saturday, March 16th at 8 pm; and Sunday, March 17th at 3 pm (ASL interpreted). Purchase tickets here.