I heard a two women at intermission at Xanadu last Saturday night at intermission blurt out, “Is that really Erin Weaver?” What audiences and critics are finding out is that Erin Weaver is a multi-talented actress, singer, comedienne, and not a bad roller skater. That accent is another story!
I asked Erin about performing the role of Kira and working with her terrific cast and director Matthew Gardiner.
Joel: How did you get involved in Signature’s production of Xanadu, and why did you want to play the role of Kira?
I was called in to audition for Kira, which was a surprise to me, because I was five months pregnant at the time. I didn’t think I had the slightest chance of getting the part, for a variety of reasons, the main one being the big bump I had at my midsection. However, I wanted to go in for the audition because I respect Matt Gardiner a great deal and I wanted to take the opportunity to show him I could sing, since the majority of the work I do here (in and around the DC area) is with plays. Once I got over the initial shock of getting the role, I became excited (and terrified) to do something that I knew would challenge me in every possible way.
Erin: Tell us about Kira, and how much of Kira is Erin-like?
Ha! From the outside looking in, Kira and I have absolutely NOTHING in common! She is a girly, girly girl and I am a total tom boy. Her energy, her aura, her dress, even her suitcase is hot pink while you won’t find a single pink item of clothing in my closet. She has no problem using her sexuality to get what she wants. Conversely, I find myself uncomfortable wearing v-neck t-shirts if they are cut too low. The list of differences seem endless, and yet, I believe it is an actor’s job to find genuine commonalities between the character and yourself. So, on a deeper level (and you can only go so deep with Xanadu), one of the qualities Kira and I share is our desire to always follow the rules and to be perfect in our work. For Kira, perfect means always looking great and being the best muse she can be – which will ultimately win her the gift of Xanadu. For me, as an actor, I always have this absurd need to be ‘opening night’ ready by the first day of rehearsal. My standards for myself in the rehearsal room are absurdly high and unrealistic and frankly, exhausting. When it’s all said and done, the lesson we both learn is; despite our failure to achieve perfection in our work, we are still humbled by receiving the gift of “Xanadu”- which is to love someone (or in my case, many people) and to create art.
Are you a fan of the movie and the Broadway production? Did you see them and what were your impressions?
Unfortunately, I have never seen the Broadway production. I did, however, watch the movie quite a few times in preparation for this production. While the movie is fairly awful, I didn’t find it to be as torturous to watch as many warned me. I watched it with the thought that we’d make fun of it during the musical, and that gave me a certain amount of gleeful enjoyment.
The NYC production was performed on ‘roller skates.’ Is this production also done on roller skates?
Is there a roller skating consultant who is working with you?
Our consultant was Gregory. He was incredible. Jamie (Eaker) and I started working with him about two weeks before rehearsals started, and then we had a two day skate camp with the rest of the cast. He also came back many times after that to help with the final number and with my general movement and blocking through out the show.
On a scale from 1 to 10, how would you rate you roller skating skills?
If 1 is a person simply wearing skates and rolling forward with a person on either side helping them along and 10 is Gregory… I would say I am at a 6.
Did you roller skate as a kid?
I did roller skate when I was younger and I loved it! However, I only knew how to skate forward. Back then, my main purpose for going roller skating revolved around hanging out with friends and flirting with boys.
How would you describe the ‘accent’ you are using for the show?
I would describe it as terrible! I worked with Leigh Wilson Smiley on the Australian accent before rehearsals started. I didn’t worry too much about getting it exactly right as it says over and over again in the script: “in an awful australian accent”.
Have you played any characters on the stage who are similar to Kira?
Nope. This is definitely a first for me.
What did Director/Choreographer Matthew Gardiner tell you his vision was for this production, and what is the best advice he gave you on playing Kira?
Matt has this incredible ability to balance play with discipline. We were all aware from the first how campy this musical was going to be.
This campiness never seemed to stop Matt from making sure that the room was always focused, that the choreography sharp and unified, and that the story was clear. I always felt very safe knowing that he had a strong birds-eye-view of this production and how it would come together. Whenever I offered up an idea for a very very silly bit, he would have a good laugh with me and then help to make the bit work with the precision and seriousness of a surgeon. Matt worked hard to create high quality fun; I think that is what he was aiming for and he certainly inspired me to strive for the same.
How would you describe as Matthew and his Assistant Choreographer Brianne Camp’s choreography for Xanadu, and what’s been the most difficult ‘move’ or dance to learn?
As I am not a dancer, I will not attempt to describe the style of dancing in this show. However, I will say how in awe I am of Matthew, Brianne and Jamie, Kellee, Mark, and Nick who do the bulk of the dancing in the show. I don’t know how they do it. The hardest choreography for me is the Andrew Sisters’ section and the final disco routine on our skates in the final number.
Jeff Lynne and John Farrar’s score is filled with #1 hits. Which song that you sing is your favorite, and which song – that you don’t sing – do you really enjoy hearing and watching your fellow cast members perform?
I really love singing “Suddenly.” It sits in a comfortable place for me vocally and I love singing with Charlie. It’s also a fun song to sing because it is just so silly. My favorite songs to watch are “Evil Woman” and “Don’t Walk Away.” I am constantly blown away by ALL of my cast mates, and those two songs are especially fun for me to watch from back stage!
Before Xanadu opened on Broadway critics were predicting a short run because the movie was trashed by film critics everywhere. Why do you think the show had a healthy run on Broadway? What is it about the show that’s critic proof, and why do you think audiences will love coming to see it?
It’s hard to comment on the Broadway production’s success because I did not see it. From what I have heard, our production is different from the Broadway version in several of ways. My guess as to the nature of this musical’s success would be that Douglas Carter Beane fearlessly wrote a structured, confident, and campy musical that makes no apologies for it’s self. The work also immediately makes the audience aware that all they need to do is sit back, relax and have fun. Additionally, he does this with a high level of musical and comedic precision.
You have a great cast assembled for the Signature production. Besides yourselves you have Sherri L. Edelen (Calliope/Aphrodite), Nova Y. Payton (Melpomene/ Medusa), and Harry A. Winter (Danny Maguire/ Zeus), along with Mark Chandler, Jamie Eacker, Kellee Knighten Hough, and Nickolas Vaughan in the ensemble. Have you worked with any of them before?
I have only worked with Sherri Edelen before. We did A Murder, A Mystery and A Marriage at Round House House Theater years ago. I was so excited to get back into the rehearsal room with Sherri! And the rest of the cast has been AMAZING to work with. Not a bad egg in the bunch; every one is incredibly kind, hard working, loving, respectful, disciplined… I feel so grateful to be a part of this group of actors.
What is it about their performances in rehearsals that has thrilled you or surprised you?
How incredibly hard musical theater is and how easy they all make it look. I did not major in musical theater and I have not done many musicals professionally. I was always three steps behind everyone. This cast picked up the choreography and harmonies with such ease.
You have a young daughter. How are you juggling being a mother and performing in the show?
Wow… to be honest, it’s been really tough. I am so in love with my daughter and every second that I am away from her is hard. However, while this show has challenged me more than any other production I have ever been a part of, it has been a blast! I could not ask to work with a more supportive cast, director, and stage manager. In fact, everyone at Signature Theater has been so understanding and supportive. Maisie (my, now 7 month old daughter, who was five months old when we started) came to work with me every day. My sister, Caitlin, came with us to take care of her. I truly don’t think I could have done this show without Maisie being at work with me while in the care of my wonderful sister or the incredible support of my husband and the patience of everyone in and apart of Xanadu. I am unbelievably lucky to be surrounded by people who have been nothing but loving to Maisie, and patient with me walking around in a sleep deprived stupor. I will be forever grateful to everyone who had my back through out this process.
What’s next for you after Xanadu?
Fortunately, I have a nice long break to enjoy being a mom and a wife! Then, next up is Crimes Of The Heart at Signature!
Xanadu plays through July 1, 2012, at Signature Theatre – 4200 Campbell Avenue, in Arlington, Virginia. For tickets, call (703) 820-9771, or order them online. More details.
Julia L. Exline’s review of Xanadu.