This year's Halloween production from the Washington, D.C.-based Landless Theatre Company is a bit of a departure from “Evil Dead the Musical” — based on the bloody cult film series and the show the company has performed the last three years at the Frederick Cultural Arts Center.
“We thought, 'We can't top “Evil Dead,” so let's go in a whole other direction,'” says director Melissa Cruz.
That other direction led Landless straight into the 1980s, complete with leg warmers and roller skates.
This month, Cruz is directing “Xanadu,” a stage adaptation of the 1980 film starring Olivia Newton-John. The musical comedy was a box office flop and even earned a handful of Razzie nominations, but the soundtrack had commercial success. In 2007, a stage adaptation opened on Broadway.
The show follows Clio (Maura Lacy), a Greek muse sent to earth to help the mortal Sonny (Derek Tatum), an artist in the midst of a slump. Clio, known as Kira to the mortals she meets, is determined to help Sonny achieve his dream of opening a roller disco. But trouble arises when Kira and Sonny fall in love.
“The show pokes fun at the movie and that's what makes it funny,” Tatum says.
“It's unexpected and gives audiences a break from the dark and disturbing things that might be going on this time of year,” Lacy adds.
Lacy grew up in Frederick and attended the New Life Christian School. As a student at Liberty University in Virginia, she worked on productions in the theater department and has been working on and off as a professional actor since 2006.
In 2008, Lacy had the opportunity to see “Xanadu.”
“I got to see the original show on Broadway, front row center, and I loved it ever since,” Lacy says. “It doesn't take itself too seriously.
“Seeing the Broadway production has given me the framework for what it's supposed to look like,” Lacy adds.
Despite having a frame of reference for her character, Lacy says she's tried to avoid basing her character too closely to Newton-John's.
“I'm trying not to just put [Kira] in a box,” Lacy says. “I cannot ... come close to touching [Newton-John's] performance and I don't want to be compared to her, but at the same time, I'm paying tribute to her. ... doing some nods in her direction.”
Unlike Lacy, Tatum, a Gaithersburg native and 2007 graduate of the University of Maryland, had not seen the movie or stage production of “Xanadu” before he was cast in the show.
“I've seen clips of the stage productions,” Tatum says. “I prefer not to watch the whole thing so I can develop my own character.”
Part of the character development has been deciding just how over-the-top Sonny should be.
“The show makes fun of the movie so I have to decide how campy to be and how realistic as an artist,” Tatum says. “I still need to be a believable character.”
One thing both Tatum and Lacy will have to develop is some roller-skating skills. Both actors are on skates for over an hour of the 90 minute production.
“It's been a while since I've put them on,” Lacy laughs. “I'll be wearing them everywhere I can.”
While “Xanadu” is certainly a change of pace from “Evil Dead,” the two shows do have one major thing in common — audience participation.
But this year, instead of splattering audiences with fake blood, Cruz says spectators will enjoy a less messy form of participation.
“Just like in the Broadway show, there are seats directly on stage,” Tatum says. “Toward the end ... it's like a dance party on stage.”
“This is going to be a little different,” Cruz adds. “No blood.”