It may not be 1980, but Out Front Theatre believes ‘Xanadu’ is right for the times

Out Front Theatre Company's production of the musical "Xanadu" continues through Nov. 14.
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Out Front Theatre Company's production of the musical "Xanadu" continues through Nov. 14.

Credit: Tyler Ogburn Photography

Credit: Tyler Ogburn Photography

Sometimes, a classic theater production feels like the absolute right play at the right moment. Other times, a mirror ball and roller skates can do the trick. After a 19-month break from live theatrical performances, Out Front Theatre Company knew it needed just the right fit as it opened up again, and the campy “Xanadu”” should hit that mark.

The 2007 Tony-nominated musical, with book by Douglas Carter Bean, is based on the 1980 film of the same name with Gene Kelly and Olivia Newton-John, itself inspired by 1947′s “Down to Earth” with Rita Hayworth. With songs such as “I’m Alive” and the titular number, it follows a young chalk artist in Venice Beach who gets a visit from a muse to inspire him.

Opening Thursday, this version of “Xanadu” is a co-production with Georgia State University, where GSU students will be understudies during the run at Out Front through November 6 and then will take center stage November 10-14.

Paul Conroy, artistic director of the LGBTQ-themed company, says the musical feels entirely appropriate at this time in the world. “‘Xanadu’ is exactly the show that every single one of us needs, even if we don’t [know we] need it,” says Conroy, who is directing the production. “We need to laugh, escape, to see roller skates and mirror balls and goofy characters and a love story. I think we need ‘Xanadu’ now because we need smiles. And I hope that is what this show gives to people, not looking for anything deep, just looking for people to be able to sit back for a couple of hours and not worry about anything else going on in the world.”

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Out Front Theatre Company's production of the musical "Xanadu" continues through Nov. 14.

Credit: Tyler Ogburn Photography

Out Front Theatre Company's production of the musical "Xanadu" continues through Nov. 14.
Caption
Out Front Theatre Company's production of the musical "Xanadu" continues through Nov. 14.

Credit: Tyler Ogburn Photography

Credit: Tyler Ogburn Photography

The show was part of Out Front’s canceled 2020-21 season. Conroy knew even before the pandemic hit that the presidential election would get people stressed out. “I learned a long time ago that when we have traumatic events going on around us, theater can be a healing tool of escapism,” he says. That’s what seeing “Urinetown” in New York was like for him two weeks after 9/11. “It was just this wacky, absurd comedy, and for a few hours everything was OK.”

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Paul Conroy is the founder and artistic creative director of the Out Front Theatre Co., which is an LGBTQ theater company on the west side of Atlanta. Contributed by the Out Front Theatre Co.

Paul Conroy is the founder and artistic creative director of the Out Front Theatre Co., which is an LGBTQ theater company on the west side of Atlanta. Contributed by the Out Front Theatre Co.
Caption
Paul Conroy is the founder and artistic creative director of the Out Front Theatre Co., which is an LGBTQ theater company on the west side of Atlanta. Contributed by the Out Front Theatre Co.

Teaching actors the intricacies of roller skating has proven to be the biggest challenge for the director so far, especially people under a certain age who may not have used them before. “They may have worn roller blades but it’s completely different,” he says. “My second rehearsal was four hours of skating, and people would come early and skate in circles and backwards and do whatever tricks they are going to do and then go over their lines and music.”

Everyone in the show is vaccinated and wore masks during rehearsal, but last week took them off so they could hear themselves sing. For audiences, proof of vaccination or a negative PCR test no more than 48 hours old is required, as are masks inside the West Midtown theater when patrons are not eating or drinking.

Like other theater companies, Out Front and its staff had to adapt to COVID-19 last year. Conroy mounted five productions — four one-man shows and the other a two-character one — as well as some cabarets for virtual viewing. All of them bombed.

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Out Front Theatre Company's production of the musical "Xanadu" continues through Nov. 14.

Credit: Tyler Ogburn Photography

Out Front Theatre Company's production of the musical "Xanadu" continues through Nov. 14.
Caption
Out Front Theatre Company's production of the musical "Xanadu" continues through Nov. 14.

Credit: Tyler Ogburn Photography

Credit: Tyler Ogburn Photography

“It was important to stay engaged with patrons and as many artists as we could, but I don’t think audiences have an appetite for virtual theater unless it’s something on a massive scale like when Disney+ released Hamilton,” he says.

“We learned there is no substitute for live theater and there is nothing else like that, the human connection of having people in the theater and live performers onstage at the same time,” Conroy says. “I know I desperately want that and everyone in the show does. You don’t get that in your living room watching a screen.”

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The cast of Out Front Theatre Company's production of "Xanadu."

Credit: Tyler Ogburn Photography

The cast of Out Front Theatre Company's production of "Xanadu."
Caption
The cast of Out Front Theatre Company's production of "Xanadu."

Credit: Tyler Ogburn Photography

Credit: Tyler Ogburn Photography

The rest of Out Front’s season includes “Ginger Minj’s Winter Wonderland,” Nov. 27-28; “The Golden Girls: The Lost Episodes-Holiday Edition,” Dec. 10-19; “All the Natalie Portmans,” Feb. 3-19; “Miz Cracker-She’s a Woman!,” Feb. 25; and “When Last We Flew,” March 17-April 2.

“The Boys in the Band” and “Torch Song,” originally announced by the company for 2020 and 2021 runs, will be staged at a later time.

Keeping the company afloat during the pandemic has not been easy. Conroy says Out Front has received some grants this year and the company’s landlord has worked with it on a rent reduction. Out Front has also taken out a loan. “We’ve come out OK — not great, but not terrible,” Conroy says. “Costs were reduced a lot but donations dropped off somewhat.”

Caption
Out Front Theatre Company's production of the musical "Xanadu" continues through Nov. 14.

Credit: Tyler Ogburn Photography

Out Front Theatre Company's production of the musical "Xanadu" continues through Nov. 14.
Caption
Out Front Theatre Company's production of the musical "Xanadu" continues through Nov. 14.

Credit: Tyler Ogburn Photography

Credit: Tyler Ogburn Photography

Conroy has used the extra time since March 2020, when he last mounted a live play, to improve the space and update the company’s facilities and equipment, including a second performance space in the lobby, new offices, a new green room and a recent interior paint job.

“When people come back, hopefully they’ll see a place that is familiar and that we haven’t just been sitting back for a year and a half,” he says. “We’ve done something here.”

THEATER PREVIEW

“Xanadu”

Through Nov. 14. $20-$30. Out Front Theatre Company, 999 Brady Ave. NW, Atlanta. 404-448-2755, outfronttheatre.com.


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Credit: ArtsATL

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