Aussies on Roller Skates: The Piper Theatre’s Xanadu Opens Tonight

Aussies on Roller Skates: The Piper Theatre’s Xanadu Opens Tonight

It’s happening:

The Piper Theatre’s production of Xanadu opens tonight. It’s campy, it’s based on a movie originally starring Olivia Newton-John, it’s on roller skates, and it’s free. If there is any reason to sit outside in this heat, this is that reason.

To get in the Xanaduian spirit, we considered donning our finest white polyester (audiences are encouraged to come in 70s garb), but given the heat and our vanity, we decided to check in with director/Piper Theatre co-founder John McEneny instead.

Why Xanadu? What made it a good fit for Piper, for Summer 2012, for Park Slope?

Because Xanadu is the best thing ever.  It’s nothing but fun, the music is fantastic (ELO), the script is witty (Douglas Carter Beane), and we have skating muses.  This is our first big musical and it balances our season which includes a dark devised physical production of HG Well’s Island of Doctor Moreau on Saturdays.  Something for everyone.

The show’s about a Greek muse who descends from Mt. Olympus to inspire a struggling young artist to turn an an abandoned dance hall into a roller disco. (Also, it’s a love story.) What have been the unexpected challenges — and the unexpected delights of the rehearsal process?

Things I’ve learned by directing Xanadu:
1.  There are such things as “indoor skates” and “outdoor skates.” We learned the hard way after purchasing indoor skates and had to have them refitted with outdoor wheels. Which was very expensive.
2.  Musical Theatre Actors are strangely always cheerful.
3.  Stages can actually get hot enough to melt character shoes.
4.  It is impossible to get the songs of Xanadu out of your head.

What makes a piece a good fit for the neighborhood, do you think?

This year, Washington Park was renovated into a huge play scheme with a babbling brook, Dr. Seussian play equipment, new swings, and water canons. Families have flocked in droves and there is such a renewed sense of play and fun that we wanted to match that sense of fun!

You’ve been around since 2000, and in Park Slope since ’05, right? How has the arts culture of the neighborhood changed since then? How has Park Slope’s landscape shaped Piper Theatre?

Our audience is young, smart, and needs a night out of free theatre. We have an education company during the day with 150 kids who pretty much hang out every day and late into the evening watching the shows. We have the guys playing handball next door who join us. We have families hoping to escape from their hot apartments. We have fans of theatre. And we have a lot of people who can’t afford the costs of theatre and want to see professional productions in their own neighorhood. Our audience wants to be thrilled. On that front, nothing has really changed in Park Slope. Everyone is invited and hopefully they’ll drop a few bills in the bucket as they leave so that we can keep coming back.

Can you roller skate?

I can’t sing, dance, or roller skate. I have no business directing Xanadu. Fortunately I have surrounded myself with some powerful women. Kim Maier (the director of the Old Stone House) is executive producer, Karen Curlee (Broadway casts of Cats and Chorus Line) is the choreographer, Laura Mullholland is the brilliant music director, Lauren Fajardo and Sandye Renz are my hilarious costume designers, Mollie Lief is my assistant director, and Sarah Edkins is my mad set designer who currently putting the last touches on my giant Pegasus statue. [This is true. -eds.]

The show runs Thursdays and Fridays in July — that’s the 5th, 6th, 12th, 13th, 19th, and 20th — at 8pm outside Old Stone House in Washington Park (5th Avenue between 3rd and 4th Streets).