The CultureMap Interview
Xanadu star romps on roller skates, plays in "pageant closet" and channels Olivia Newton John
In a decade at Stages Repertory Theatre, Holland Vavra has portrayed a stripper, an agoraphobic housewife, a 1940s pinup girl, a Steel Magnolia and a Wonderette, among other roles. But nothing has compared to the attention she is getting for her current turn as the roller-skating star in Xanadu — a part made famous by Olivia Newton John in the '80s cult film.
"It's just a big party — and it's on roller skates."
The musical has become a big summer hit for Stages, which has extended performances through July 20. The production, a wild romp that improbably combines rollers skaters in legwarmers with muses in Greek togas and some of the decade's most iconic tunes, draws a cadre of excited Houston theatergoers who have already seen the production seven or eight times, mouthing the lyrics to such songs as "Suddenly" and "I'm Alive" along with the cast.
"They're our super fans," says the show's star, who everyone calls Holland (in a one-name tribute kind of like Cher). "It's fabulous."
CultureMap caught up with the 31-year-old actress to find out more.
CultureMap: You've done a lot of different roles at Stages. How does this compare to the ones you've done in the past?
Holland Vavra: Oh gosh, this is the first one I can say I am legitimately starring in. This is my 14th show at Stages and I've been very, very blessed by the people there. But this one is different. It's just a wonderful show to do. There's nothing sad or upsetting about it. It's just a big party — and it's on roller skates.
CM: Did you have to learn to roller skate for this role?
HV: Oh, no. I have been skating as long as I can remember actually. I am very comfortable on roller skates — it just so happens there is an entire musical on roller skates and thankfully I am able to do it.
CM: Has it improved your roller skating skills?
HV: It's made me more comfortable on them. My turning is really good now. I can turn really fast. It's a new element to be on roller skates in a small space.
CM: Why is Xanadu so beloved?
HV: The '80s was such a great time for people. I'm a child of the '80s. I was young (born in 1982), but I do remember this music. People can hear the first notes of a tune and remember where they were the first time they heard it.
"You find your niche, your theater family and you just stay with them."
CM: How hard is it to make a living as an actress in Houston?
HV: I have been really blessed with the people at Stages. I started working there when I was 21. I've gone on to TUTS and done other things here and there, but I always come back to Stages. I am union and it's difficult to work constantly in Houston as union. But I think we have a wonderful theater community in Houston. You find your niche, your theater family and you just stay with them.
CM: On Twitter, you once said, "I want to be Carol Burnett." Does that still stand?
HV: I do love her. And Madeline Kahn. The humor those women could produce was way beyond what was happening at the time. Oddly enough, in the show, towards the end of the second act, there are four of us on stage and we crack each other up so hard that we have to figure something to say on the spot. We jokingly say it's The Carol Burnett Show.
CM: Is Holland a family name?
HV: No, it's not. Both of my parents were in theater and just wanted me to have an interesting name, maybe crossing their fingers that their little girl would be an actress. I guess they got what they wanted.
CM: You were in the Miss Texas pageant. What do you feel about pageants now, looking back?
HV: There is a great deal of humor and satire in pageants, but the best part is the women are real, they are funny and talented and smart. I enjoyed my three years (in competition). It's fun to play dress-up every day. And I won the talent (portion) when I was there so I got a lot of my tuition paid.
I currently have what most of friends, particularly Mitchell Greco, the director, and Mark Ivy, who is also in the show, refer to it as my "pageant closet." It is fun to come play in the pageant closet when you come over.
Xanadu continues Wednesdays through Sundays at Stages, 3201 Allen Parkway, through July 20. Tickets are $19 - $65.