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Arizona Theatre Company makes magic with ‘Xanadu’ at the Herberger

Jessica Skerritt, center, plays Kira in Arizona Theatre Company’s “Xanadu” at the Herberger Center Theater.
Jessica Skerritt, center, plays Kira in Arizona Theatre Company’s “Xanadu” at the Herberger Center Theater.
Mark Kitaoka

It’s 1980. A movie is made starring Olivia Newton-John and Gene Kelly. To hear some critics tell it, the movie not only destroys the movie musical genre, but nearly sends Newton-John into oblivion. Nor does it do much for Gene Kelly.

So when the story is turned into a play, the sensible thing to do is stay away. Right?

Wrong.

At the official opening night of “Xanadu,” produced by the Arizona Theatre Company at the Herberger Theater Center Saturday, Jan. 4, the two-hour performance went by far too fast. Somehow, the unlikely combination of ’80s music, gods and goddesses coming to earth and roller disco turned into an enchanting evening of musical theater, humor and even audience participation. The sets were dazzling, the music terrific, the laughs nonstop, the cast superb, the choreography fun (including a ’40s style swing) and the roller skating wasn’t bad either.

The Broadway play based on the movie opened in 2007, was nominated for four Tony Awards and garnered good reviews. With book by Douglas Carter Beane and music and lyrics by John Farrar and Jeff Lynne, the Phoenix production is directed by Arizona Theatre Company’s artistic director, David Ira Goldstein. It runs through January 19.

Playing the beautiful Greek goddess Clio, disguised as the Australian-accented mortal Kira, is Jessica Skerritt. Clio, or Kira, is sent by Zeus to inspire Venice Beach street artist Sonny Malone to achieve his passion to open a roller disco. Skerritt somehow manages to sing beautifully and move gracefully, though she spends much of her onstage time on roller skates. Additional credits for the actress include Ulla in “The Producers,” Cinderella in Rodgers & Hammerstein’s “Cinderella,” Corie in “Barefoot in the Park,” Maria in “The Sound of Music,” Dyanne in “Million Dollar Quartet,” Ellen in “Miss Saigon,” Deb in “ELF: The Musical” and Young Little Edie in “Grey Gardens.” Skerritt, who is from Seattle, has performed regionally at Village Theatre, the Ordway Center for the Performing Arts, The 5th Avenue Theatre, Coeur d'Alene Summer Theatre and ACT Theatre.

Making us love the sometimes not-too-bright Sonny Malone is the real-life husband of Skerritt, Dane Stokinger, who is originally from Fairbanks, Alaska. Stokinger has toured nationally and internationally in “Jesus Christ Superstar” and “Miss Saigon” and has performed regionally with Village Theatre, East L.A. Classic Theatre, Coeur d'Alene Summer Theatre, the Ordway Center for the Performing Arts, The 5th Avenue Theatre and Seattle Children’s Theatre. Some recent credits include Mike in “Trails,” Jerry in “The Full Monty,” Lancelot in “Spamalot,” Tateh in “Ragtime,” Frank Butler in “Annie Get Your Gun,” Rocky in “Damn Yankees,” Chad in “All Shook Up,” and Tin Man in “The Wizard of Oz.”

Returning to ATC as both Zeus and Danny Maguire, a magnate who bankrolls Sonny’s disco obsession, is Jeff Steitzer. At ATC Steitzer last appeared as Dr. Watson in “Sherlock Holmes and the Adventure of The Suicide Club” and first appeared as Frank in “Private Eyes.” Other credits include Touchstone in “As You Like It,” Dogberry in “Much Ado About Nothing,” Argante in “Scapin” and Launce in “The Two Gentlemen of Verona.” On Broadway, Steitzer has appeared in “Inherit the Wind” and “Mary Poppins.” He has also performed at the Seattle Repertory Theatre, ACT Theatre, Intiman Theatre, The Old Globe, The 5th Avenue Theatre, Geva Theatre Center, Long Wharf Theatre, Yale Repertory Theatre and Mint Theater Company. In addition, Steitzer has worked in film and television, and his narration of the audiobook “Dogtripping” by David Rosenfelt won an AudioFile Earphones Award.

Playing Kira’s older sister Melpomene is Lisa Estridge, while Christine Riippi takes the part of Kira’s younger sister Calliope. The two add a good deal of hilarity when they attempt to place a curse on Kira, with a little help from the audience.

Some of Estridge’s credits include Sour Kangaroo in “Seussical,” a Dynamite in “Hairspray,” Lina Lamont in “Singin’ in the Rain,” Peter Pan in “Peter Pan,” Susannah in “Tintypes,” the Acid Queen in “Tommy,” the Witch in “Into the Woods,” Cleo in “Most Happy Fella” and Ti Moune in “Once on This Island.” Estridge was nominated for the 2012 Kevin Kline Award for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Musical for her performance in “Beehive” at The Repertory Theatre of St. Louis. Estridge also records voiceovers and sings with her band, Chi-Town Soul. She holds a Bachelor of Fine Arts from Adelphi University and a Master of Fine Arts from the University of Washington.

Other credits fir Riippi include “The Noteworthy Life of Howard Barnes,” Tessie in “Gypsy,” Pseudolus in “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum” and numerous other productions in and around Seattle.

Other members of the cast include Michael Feldman as Thalia and Young Danny, Jessica Low as Erato and Eros, Taylor Niemeyer as Euterpe and Thetis, and Richard Peacock as Terpsicore and Hermes.

Other credits for Feldman include “Richard the III,” “Green Show,” “Les Misérables,” “West Side Story,” “The Music Man,” “Spot,” and “The Wizard of Oz.”

Some of Low’s other credits include “Annie Get Your Gun,” “Big River,” “Beauty and the Beast,” “It Shoulda Been You,” “42nd Street,” “The Who’s Tommy,” “The Full Monty,” “Saint Heaven” and the new work “Lizzie Borden.” She has also appeared as Cathy in “The Last Five Years,” Mary Magdalene in “Jesus Christ Superstar” and Eve/Mama Noah in “Children of Eden.” Low, who has a Bachelor of Arts in drama from the University of Washington, also works as a choreographer, director and educator.

Previous roles for Niemeyer include Zaneeta Shinn in “The Music Man,” Mary Jane in “Big River,” Euterpe in “Xanadu,” Janet Van De Graaff in “The Drowsy Chaperone,” Dorothy in “The Wizard of Oz” and Winnie Tate in “Annie Get Your Gun.”

Previous regional theater credits for Peacock include “The Mystery of Edwin Drood.” In addition, he has worked with choreographers Camille A. Brown, Iyun Ashani Harrison, Chad Michael Hall, Tim Lynch and Wade Madsen.

Besides all of the above, need another reason to go see “Xanadu”? Here’s one: At the end, the audience gets to find out why Kira wears leg warmers. Hint: It’s not because she’s imitating Newton-John.

Listen to Kira when she sings the following words from “Magic,” one of the John Farrar/Jeff Lynne songs: “You have to believe we are magic. Nothin’ can stand in our way.” Don’t let anything stand in the way. Get tickets now. Tickets are available online or by calling the box office at (602) 256-6995.The Herberger is located at 222 E. Monroe in Phoenix.

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