A muse on roller skates. Amazing!
Can it get any more amusing than that?
Add more skaters, a fresco of muses frozen in time who spring to life, sparkling songs, scheming sisters, forbidden love and shazam! The answer is a resounding yes! And let’s not forget about an ‘80s roller disco with a trademark, sparkly disco ball suspended from on high.
Jodi Carmeli, a resident of Coon Rapids, plays a leading role of Kira, a magical Greek muse in Chanhassen Dinner Theatre’s Midwest premiere of “Xanadu.”
The show, directed by Michael Brindisi, runs on CDT’s main stage through September.
Not only does Jodi have the singing and acting chops for the role, she has nailed an Aussie accent, central to the show’s script based on the 1980s movie of the same title, starring singer/actress Olivia Newton-John.
And never mind that Jodi has never roller skated before, except when she was on an elementary school field trip. At CDT, she manages to rock and, literally, roll her way across the stage, at the same time belting out tunes that awaken the inner spirits of us mere mortals.
Jodi plays opposite Dieter Bierbrauer, who inhabits the character of Sonny Malone, an artsy dreamer with big ambitions.
This is the second time the two actors have shared the stage together in lead roles at Chanhassen. Back in 2005, he was Tony in Leonard Bernstein’s “West Side Story;” she was Maria.
“It’s quite remarkable to see how easily acting comes to her,” Bierbrauer said. “She’s natural. She’s very gifted.”
“Xanadu” begins as Kira, a magical and beautiful Greek muse, is sent on a quest to Earth from the heavens of Mount Olympus to Venice Beach, Calif., to inspire a young artist to achieve his greatest dream. He wants to build the first roller disco. Kira soon falls in forbidden love with the mortal Sonny. Enter her jealous sister muses. Hilarity and chaos abound.
The show offers up such blast-from-the-past tunes as “Magic,” “Have You Never Been Mellow,” “Suddenly” and, of course, “Xanadu.” Music and lyrics are by Jeff Lynne and John Farrar. The show is based on the Universal Pictures film screenplay by Richard Danus and Marc Rubel and book by Douglas Carter Beane.
Musical theater is her passion
Jodi was raised in Shoreview. She started voice lessons at the age of seven. Her mother drove her to pageants and commercial auditions when she was a child. In sixth grade she hit it big when she won the kid’s category of the TV show “Star Search,” singing Liza Minnelli’s “City Lights” and Patti LaBelle’s “Oh, People.”
After graduating from Mounds View High School, she attended the University of Minnesota. Jodi had planned on studying opera. But it was the musical that called to her.
“My passion was always musical theater,” she said.
She earned a bachelor’s degree in theater arts at the U of M and later moved to New York, where she played Maureen in the musical “Rent” on Broadway.
She has toured nationally and internationally. Among her roles are Sandy in “Grease.” The show played in Paris, Istanbul and Germany. She was Sugar, a Marilyn Monroe-type figure, in the touring production of “Some Like It Hot,” featuring the late movie star Tony Curtis.
“It was really awesome to experience that old-time Hollywood personality,” Jodi said. “He had a huge personality. A huge heart. Very artistic.”
Curtis would take cast members out after performances.
“He would draw little sketches for us and hand them out to us. He’s like, ‘I did this for you, darling.’”
The art of balance
Oh, and did I mention, Jodi, the magical muse who works eight shows a week, including two matinees, has three children under the age of five?
So how does she manage to balance a demanding but rewarding career with raising a family. Jodi answers in six succinct words.
“My husband. My husband. My husband.”
The couple share parenting duties. She tends to the kids most days, and husband, Ryan Hoag, a manager at New York Life Insurance, minds the children at night while she’s working.
Jodi met Ryan when she was vacationing in Minnesota. He was teaching fifth-grade at the time. Her step-brother was in his class.
“You should meet my sister, Mr. Hoag,” he would say, teasingly.
“So, I was home from tour and he actually had the nerve to call me,” Jodi said.
Their first date was to a homecoming celebration in St. Croix, Wis., back in 2003. Six months later they were married. This month marks Jodi and Ryan’s ninth wedding anniversary.
‘A complete circle’
After working in New York and touring half-way around the world, Jodi decided to return to the Twin Cities area.
“I always knew I wanted to make a complete circle,” she said.
She and Ryan wanted to raise their family in the Midwest. They now have three children, Luke, 5, Naomi, 3, and Aaron, 1.
Jodi’s first theater job back home was at CDT. Among her favorite roles she has played at the theater are: The Narrator in “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat,” Rusty in “Footloose,” Peggy Sawyer in “42nd Street” and Maria in “West Side Story.” Other favorite roles are Eponine in “Les Misérables” and Lily in “Annie.”
For Jodi, the best part of acting are the scenes she shares with fellow actors. “I like interacting with people,” she said.
Performance jitters are not a problem for Jodi. Singing and acting on roller skates presented a bit of a challenge at first, but she’s now moving with more ease, she said.
Jodi names “Wicked” as her favorite musical. Some day she aspires to play, not Glinda, the beautiful, ambitious witch, but the role of Alfaba, who grows up to be the Wicked Witch of the West.
One of her favorite actors is Jane Lynch.
“She’s quirky. She takes risks,” Jodi said. Not unlike Jodi, who can now add singing on roller skates in front of thousands to her résumé.
As for “Xanadu” Jodi says, “I hope people can see it. It’s such a great show. They’d be pleasantly surprised.”
For more information, visit www.chanhassenDT.com or call 952-934-1525.
Chanhassen Dinner Theatre
presents the Midwest premiere of“Xanadu”
Directed by Michael Brindisi
$61 – $81 per person, including dinner
Kids-in-free specials available
501 W. 78 St., Chanhassen
For tickets and show times, visit www.chanhassenDT.com
or call 952-934-1525.
Elyse Kaner is at [email protected]