Friday, September 7, 2012

Leg Warmers and short shorts: A chat with Xanadu's Gina Milo and Chris Critelli

Cross posted from

The '80s are back, courtesy of Drury Lane Theatre's production of the Broadway hit "Xanadu." 

Based on the 1980 flop that feature Olivia Newton John and a score by Electric Light Orchestra, the show's neon lights will shine through Oct. 28. 

I caught up with stars Gina Milo and Chris Critelli, who play the muse Clio and the struggling artist Sonny respectively, to talk about all things '80s.  

Q: The film “Xanadu” is considered by many to be a guilty pleasure, what’s your guilty pleasure?
Gina Milo: My guilty pleasure is anything with sugar. Cupcake, cookies, ice cream, I don't discriminate. I don’t allow myself to eat sugar when I'm doing shows, but when I'm not, look out!. 
Chris Critelli: I'd have to say my guilty pleasure is greasy, disgusting street food in New York. The kind of stuff you get late at night. I’ll never stop loving it.

Q: What was your reaction to the film when you first saw it?
GM: The first time I saw it was after I got cast. It’s pretty bad. It’s awful in a kind of wonderful-awful way. You have to keep watching because it’s so awful. We hadn't even had the first rehearsal and I was thinking 'Oh, my God, what have I gotten myself into." 
CC: I was the same. I first saw it when I was preparing for the show a few months ago. It was hard to get through. The film 'Xanadu' is a journey, but it's not an easy one to take. It's got great music, but it hard to hear it over the sound of Gene Kelly spinning in his grave. You can see in the film that he is delivering every line with gritted teeth. You can almost hear him thinking 'I can't believe this is really going to be the last movie I’m ever going to make.'

Q: Why does the film and musical have such a cult following?
GM: I think for a lot of people, the film represents freedom. There is a lot of freedom in it. Individuality, sexuality. So many abstract things happening in it. When I watch it, I see all these different types of people in the ensemble. Everybody belongs in Xanadu and that maakes you feel accepted, too.
CC: I've got to say it's mostly the short shorts my character wears [laughs]. Seriously, though. The film and subsequently now the musical really tap into the pulse and energy of the era. You can't think of the '80s and not think of the pop music of the era and this show has got it.  'Xanadu' is all about the music, the colors and the pure joy that the decade represented. 

Q: The show both celebrates and lampoons the ‘80s. What is one thing from that era you’d like to see make a comeback and why?
GM: Leg warmers all the way. When I got cast, my husband was most excited about the leg warmers. I couldn't understand why until I put them on. They are really sexy, surprisingly. They're slouchy-sexy, if I can coin a phrase. 

CC: Deloreons, of course. Especially the flying kind! It is such a ridiculous car. With the way the doors open, you can't park them anywhere. So, yeah. Deloreons. 

Q: Conversely, what’s one thing that should stay buried in that time capsule forever?
GM: I would say the garish make up. It was pretty intense. Hot pink is fine on your clothes, but not on your face.
CC:Crimped hair. It is so silly. Crimped hair needs to be locked in a vault in the dark somewhere.

Q: What attracted you to your respective roles?
Gina Milo
GM:There were a couple of things. It's a great vehicle for a quirky girl like me. I usually get cast as the sidekick. This is one of the few shows where you can be quirky and still be the lead. Secondly, I admired Olivia Newton John. To mimic her is a dream come true for the five year old in me.
CC: It’s just pure joy. I get to have fun, sing awesome '80s pop rock and be funny for two hours. The score is amazing and I'm fortunate to get to sing it. You forget the hits ELO wrote. It's the same reaction I had with J'ersey Boys.' You forgot about their incredible music catalaog. Their music was soundtrack of people'slives back in the day for a reason. It's great.

Q: Speaking of the score, do you have a favorite song in the show?
GM:I'll keep it to four. I love anything from the '40s, so I adore "Whenever You're Away From Me" and "Dancin'". I love singing "Suddenly" with Chris. We harmonize really well on that song. And I'd be remiss if I didn't mention "Xanadu," of course. 
CC: My favorite is also my most hated. I love "Suddenly.' It's a beautiful song and the moment is so hysterical. Gina is such a big ball of warmth. We met each other in New York before rehearsals started and five minutes into lunch we were telling each other our dark secrets. She is this best friend who I happened to meet later in my life and I love being able to have that moment on stage with her.  I hate it thought because I'm in a phone booth and I have to magically change into roller skates in nanosecond.

Q:The show requires roller skating skills, was that daunting or are you a natural on 'heels with wheels'?
GM:I wasn’t scared, at first. I used to roller skate with my dad when I was a kid and figured how hard could it be? Then, when I realized we had to be dancingin roller skates, I had an emotional break down every other day. Now, I;m best friends with my roller skates.
Chris Critelli

CC: 'Heels on wheels' -I love that! I'm going to use that. I had done some skating in middle school back in Buffalo. Even so, I was terrified. I had the icy fear of meeting my roller-death. Humans were not meant to move that way. I'm getting used to it, though.

Q: Most people don’t know their Erato from their Terpsichore. Where you familiar with the Muses and mythology before the show, did you have a crash course in it or is it all still Greek to you?
GM:I can pretty much point to mythology as being the one course in junior high that got me kicked off the honor role. I was terrible with mythology. So, I had to really study to prepare for the show. I realized I love the muses and the gods. They are all so dysfunctional. 
CC:I grew up as a chubby nerd. I was really into Greek mythology. I would spend hours at the library reading all the books. Creatures. I grew up watching all those Ray Harryhausen movies. I love the fact that the cyclops and the minotaur have cameos in the show. 

Q: Chris, your character wears some short shorts. Any concerns about staying warm or fitting in them?
CC: It is definitely a concern! The more you wash 'em, the more they tatter. By the end of the run, there might not be anything left! As for fitting in them, I plan a steady diet of awesome '80 workout video tapes to keep in shape. 

Q: Gina, any tips for nailing an Australian accent?
GM:It's very hard. British is way easier. You have to keep your tongue forward and lyour mouth ight. It's almost like a smile. . That’s the magic formula. the 'O' vowel is the hardest. 

Final question: Who is your muse?
GM: I go back and forth between my mother and husband. My mother is such a character. I've tried to bring aspects of her into all my characters. My husband cheers me on. Actually, they both do. 'Xanadu' has me out of my comfort zone, doing things that are very different for me. To know that they are both their supporting me, it really helps me find the courage to tackle this.  
CC: I would also say my family. My parents and sister. I owe who I am to those three people. I can only hope I make them proud.

"Xanadu" runs through Oct. 28 at the Drury Lane Theatre, 100 Drury Lane, Oakbrook Terrace. Tickets, $20-$45. Call (800) 745-3000.

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