Even with Vegas and digitally vandalizing announcements around campus, by far the largest reason I’ve been so busy this semester was my job. Not McGladrey (that doesn’t start until mid-June), no I had an actual off-campus job this semester.
Well, sort of.
I had the privilege to be asked to do choreography for my third show at Wahlert, the Catholic high school in Dubuque. I had had amazing experiences in the past working with the casts of both Children of Eden and Quilters, so I was very much looking forward to the task.
When asking if I would take the job, Brandon (the director) told me we would be doing Xanadu, a show based off the 1980 movie of the same name, starring Olivia Newton John. I had never seen the movie, so I rented it to get an idea of what I’d be working with.
This proved to be a mistake.
The movie was universally panned by critics, which was actually pretty generous considering the entire thing appears to be taken directly out of the mind of a psychopath tripping on acid. Yet, almost 30 years later, someone rewrote and adapted the movie into a stage production, keeping major plot points (but, you know, giving them explanation and reason to be in the story), adding a few songs and characters, and mercilessly making fun of the original story.
In a nutshell, the story is about a struggling artist named Sonny living in California in the 1980s. He draws a chalk mural of the Ancient Greek Muses, who rise out of the mural and come to life. The leader of the muses, Kira, sets out to help Sonny reach great artistic achievement by helping him open an “apex of all the arts — a roller disco.” Kira hopes to inspire a work of art so great that she will be rewarded by Zeus with Xanadu: a gift so grand that no one quite knows what it is.
Kira’s two older sisters are jealous of her success, and decide to place a curse on Kira and Sonny to make them fall in love — something that is forbidden by Zeus and is punishable by eternal damnation in the netherworld. Musical shenanigans ensue.
With the other shows I’ve worked on at Wahlert, I mainly worked with a concentrated group within the cast for maybe four or five numbers. Xanadu provided the challenge of working with several different groups, as well as the entire cast, for all but three of the numbers. Additionally, I had the opportunity to work with extremely different styles.
Everything from Isadore Duncan,
sexy seductive foxy whatever word is Catholic-school-approved jazz routine,
to a production tap number.
A 40s swing club and 80s rock concert meshing into one,
as well as several high energy production numbers, something that can only be described as a “depressingly giddy show choir routine,” and a roller disco-worthy finale, none of which I had the foresight or opportunity to take pictures of.
The really impressive parts had nothing to do with me, which were the cast members on roller skates. Some of these kids spent hours at the local roller-rink learning tricks and impressive moves to show off on stage. Due to my inability to constantly keep both feet grounded without wheels on, I left the organization and implementation of the roller skaters in Brandon’s capable hands.
After three and a half months of work, the show premiered on Friday, April 20th, at Five Flags Theater in downtown Dubuque. We had three public shows as well as a middle school show, all of which went beautifully. My amazing family and friends who came to see the show all loved it, and I know at least some of them wouldn’t have spared the truth for my sake.
It’s been just over a week now since the show ended, and I’ve got to say it’s left a sizable void in my life. I spent anywhere from two to nine hours at Wahlert or Five Flags nearly every day since the beginning of the semester, not to mention the countless additional hours I spent brainstorming, choreographing, and obsessing over details, typically in the margins of my finance notebook.
I miss the kids, too. Don’t get me wrong, there were days when they drove me absolutely nuts. I mean come on, they’re teenagers — high-schoolers — being infuriating is part of their biological makeup. But they were still amazing. Every single kid in the cast, crew, or pit worked their tail off to make the show extraordinary, and it absolutely showed. I am so proud of their dedication and all the progress they made. I had six boys who had never touched tap shoes doing buffalos and time steps, and girls perfecting disco moves that were introduced decades before they were born. And I adored the muses. Every single day I worked with them, they went the extra mile and blew me away with how tremendously talented they are.
The whole cast was extremely talented, of course, and all of them are what made the show worth it. The time, the energy, the ripping out my hair trying to make transitions work, everything.
With graduation so close on the horizon, this is my last show with Wahlert, which is kind of sad. I was thinking about it after the last performance, and realized it was my first real Senior Moment; a finite end of something that won’t ever happen again. I know it sounds depressing, but it’s a part of life. You pick out the good memories and the lessons you learned from the experience, then you move on and seek out new adventures to have.
Kind of like graduation.
Well done, Xanadu. To quote Mrs. Darby’s hippie speech, it’s out there in time and space.