I recently had a chance to speak with the gregarious and bubbly Jill Blackwood, star of ZACH Theatre's current production of XANADU. Ms. Blackwood is somewhat of a fixture in the Austin theatre community. At the ZACH, Jill's appeared in HAIRSPRAY, THE DROWSY CHAPERONE, THE 25TH ANNUAL PUTNAM COUNTY SPELLING BEE, URINETOWN, AIDA, CABARET, MASTER CLASS, and THE ROCKY HORROR SHOW. She's also starred in various productions with Austin Shakespeare, Austin Playhouse, Austin Musical Theatre, Zilker Theatre Productions, The State Theatre, TexArts, and Mississippi's New Stage Theatre. Jill gave me the scoop on the ZACH's vivacious new production of XANADU plus some great information about future projects at the ZACH, including next season's production of RAGTIME and the opening of the new Topfer Theater.
More information on XANADU at the ZACH Theatre is available here.
JD: Thanks once again for taking the time to talk to BroadwayWorld. I want to ask you a bunch of questions about XANADU. I'm kind of fascinated by this show, particularly because while the film is a cult classic, there are still a lot of people who haven't seen the movie before.
JB: Right. Well, it came out over 30 years ago, so even a lot of people in our cast weren't even born when the movie came out.
JD: So how would you describe the show to someone who's never seen the film or the stage version before?
JB: Well, they're two pretty different shows in my opinion. It's not simply the film put on the stage. The very basic premise is the same, which is that a Greek muse, the daughter of Zeus, comes down to inspire this California artist who eventually opens his own roller disco. So, I mean, it's completely ridiculous.
JD: [Laughs] Sounds like it, but it sounds like a lot of fun.
JB: Oh, yes.
JD: I know it's not a big secret that the film version of XANADU was not a big commercial hit-
JB: Some people called it one of the worst movies of all time.
JD: [Laughs] So why do you think the musical version even came about or is so popular?
JB: Well, like I said they're two different shows. I mean, the basic premise is the same, but the film, first of all is poorly written and directed and not structured well. It's just kind of goofy, but it tries to present that story sort of with a straight face. And so the musical version takes that story and just spoofs it and is very tongue-in-cheek. It's self-aware and kind of revels in the ridiculousness of it. It knows it's ridiculous and sort of takes it even further. In the movie you also never really get what Olivia Newton-John's character is or why she's there or why she keeps appearing to this guy until towards the end. She sort of mentions that she has these sisters, but they're not part of the film. But in our show, that part of the story is much more developed and to comical effect. The muse sisters are a vital part of the show and appear in all of the scenes and introduce silly plot twists that aren't in the movie. And also, the soundtrack of the movie actually was a commercial success so there's a lot of really fun music that will bring a lot of memories for people, just of that time period and everything. The music is really highlighted in the show, and it's a lot of fun.
JD: Speaking of the music, I wanted to ask you because the show is filled with some big, popular 80s hits, what is your favorite song to sing in the show?
JB: Well, they're all so much fun. The title song is a lot of fun because it's just so high energy and it's the finale, but I also really like to sing "Magic," maybe because that's a song I've always liked, you know, hearing Olivia Newton-John sing, so it's really fun to sing that one.
JD: You mentioned Olivia Newton-John, and you play Kira, the role originated by Olivia in the film and then by Tony nominee Kerry Butler in the Broadway version. Were you intimidated at all about taking on this role?
JB: You know, I always feel a little bit intimidated to take on any role because any time you do a published show, especially if it's a musical that was a hit, people can't help but compare you to what they hear on their cast album or who they've seen do it elsewhere. But, um, it's always something I'm a little bit nervous about, but once you see the show you realize that it's something different. You know, I'm not trying to be Olivia Newton-John because the character's much different than what it was in the movie. The show sort of gives her some friendly nods, if you know what I mean, so it's fun. I'm always a little nervous at first, but the show allows you to put some of your own flare in there.