Chicago's About Face Theatre (03-05)
The Top of the Show (06-10)
Synonomous, Androgeny, and Gaybriel (11-19)
We Interrupt This Program… (20-21)
Anonymous and Aphrodite (28-32)
Chasing Gabrielle (33-36)
Alti and The Animals (37-44)
Girl Talk (45-48)
Boy Talk (49-51)
Stalking Xena (52-56)
Alti Plots (57-62)
Is He? (63-65)
Xena vs. the Barnyard (66-70)
Alti Gets Her Prize (71-74)
Xena vs. Alti (75-80)
All Heck Breaks Loose (81-90)
Together At Last (91-97)
The Last Show (98-109)
The Advertisements (110)
Fond Memories (111-113)
Laidlaw and Matheny (114-121)
Xena Live! Rocks! (122)
XENA LIVE! XENA LIVES: THE MUSICAL
Poster for Xena Live 2 - The Musical.
Click on image to see a larger graphic (341K)
 Xena Live! Xena Lives: The Musical opened April 3, 2002 and ran through June 2, 2002. Its original closing date had been May 19, but was extended for two more weekends, finally closing on Sunday, June 2. It is unfortunate that a longer extension was not possible, because this little musical deserved a longer run. It was fun and entertaining, with a message that was comprehensible without hitting the audience over its collective head. Additionally, constant tinkering, with lines ad-libbed or modified, and scenes enhanced or slightly changed, which was very much in the spirit of the television series, helped keep the show fresh and vital.
 What follows is a description and a quasi-review of the show. Beware the spoilers if you want to remain pristine regarding the story, for this includes a detailed description of the plot.
Chicago's About Face Theatre
The author and friend posing in front of the About Face Theatre.
 Chicago has a vibrant live theater trade, drawing talent from all over the nation. Although the majority of audience members are from Chicago and its suburbs, many people from all over the region come to see plays in Chicago. For those who are not aware, John Malkovich and Gary Sinese built their Steppenwolf Theater in Chicago before moving on to Hollywood and fame and fortune.
 One of the odd bits of trivia I learned while attending Xena Live 2 was that About Face Theatre first hosted Steppenwolf when it was just starting out. About Face will be moving because the building in which it is housed, Jane Addams' Hull House, is being sold. Therefore, they will be an itinerant company for the upcoming season until they find a new home. However, Steppenwolf will be the site of their first play of the new season, repaying an old debt.
 The theater shares space with several other entities, including a photography gallery, which often becomes a spillover area for people waiting to get to the stage seating. The stage at the About Face Theatre is nearly a theater-in-the-round, with seating on three sides of the stage and a small balcony running around, and above, the floor seats. It works well for more intimate plays, but Xena Live 2 is a bit too raucous to be considered intimate. The stage set-up allowed the actors to engage the audience if they chose, and they often chose to do so.
The Top of the Show
 Xena Live - Episode 2 does not follow from Episode 1, rather it builds directly from the television series finale, A FRIEND IN NEED. In my opinion, this is very sensible, because the series finale was so controversial and because most people knew Xena was dead, the play really could not ignore her death. It makes no judgment about the rightness or wrongness of Xena's demise, but simply decides to bring her back to life. (There are some lines, however, that could be construed as comments on the finale, if an individual was so inclined.)
 The mechanism of Xena's resurrection is through the efforts of one of Xena's arch-villains, Alti. The play is structured like the television show. We open in the teaser with four fans watching the last scene of A FRIEND IN NEED in stunned, open-mouthed silence. One fan is dressed as Xena, another is dressed as Gabrielle and the other two appear to be more casual fans, dressed in street clothes. "How could they do that? How could they kill Xena?" they cry in unison. But one of them has a plan. She urges them to copy and dub a living Xena from a prior episode into the last scene of the finale. The other three are baffled as to how this will work, but suddenly, stroboscopic lights flare and Alti is revealed.
 For the Xenite, this scene is reminiscent of SEND IN THE CLONES. However, it differs when Alti launches into the Alanis Morissette song, "You Oughta Know," with parody lyrics written especially for her. Elizabeth Rich is great as Alti. She never uses the husky, strained whisper of Claire Stansfield, although I suspect she did become a bit hoarse as the play went on; and her makeup only suggested the raccoon eyes used on Claire. She was quite menacing in her own right. She made a great villain. Alti, ever wanting Xena's power, brings Xena back to life by resurrecting her via water.
 This first scene shows Di Bauden's contributions to the production . Bauden edited footage together of elements we have seen, such as blood flowing in veins, storms racing through treetops, cataclysmic mushroom clouds, Rob's Folly sailing somewhere in the waters near Auckland, and images of the play's Gabrielle (Amy Matheny) and Xena (Elizabeth Laidlaw) . Xena is rising into a sitting position out of the water. Xena lives again.
 The show moves into the opening theme song, with their own version of the voiceover, "the power, the passion, the danger", and the rest of the Xena: Warrior Princess theme. Warlords and kings enter the stage and pound each other in time to the music, including a couple doing a belly-butt, while a king assists. Gabrielle (Amy Matheny) comes onstage twirling her staff, followed by Xena, who strikes a very warrior-like pose. In most performances, the cheers and applause of the audience increased as Gabrielle, and then Xena, came out. Joe Lo Duca wrote one of the most exciting and musically interesting theme songs and it never failed to get rousing cheers from the audience every time the cast performed it. Knowing that Xena was alive again probably helped, too.
Synonomous, Androgeny, and Gaybriel
 The next scene reveals Gabrielle pouring Xena's ashes out onto the ground, singing "The Burial Song". Creeping up on her is a young man, who attempts to grab her sack. He is not successful, of course, because Gabrielle was taught by the best. She easily overpowers him and the young man makes his pitch. He claims to be the child of a grammarian and asks to be Gabrielle's sidekick. She has not considered much about her future at this point, because she has been mourning Xena and bringing Xena's ashes back to Greece. The young man, who calls himself Synonomous, then launches into a rousing rendition of Rick Astley's "Never Gonna Give You Up." Patrick Sarb (Synonomous) puts so much energy into this song, that it sets the tone for the rest of the show. He parodies all the boy band moves and dancing to the point that the audience cannot help but applaud his efforts.
 Reminding Gabrielle that Xena gave her a chance, Gabrielle replies, "Xena gave me everything." At this point Gabrielle falls into memories and musing in a Fantasy Ballet. We are subtly cued that this is happening when a chicken comes out with a sign reading 'Fantasy Ballet.' Just to be sure we get it, the chicken announces that it is a fantasy flashback. Essentially, the ballet is made up of three significant points in Xena's and Gabrielle's lives together that any informed Xena fan will recognize: When Gabrielle asks Xena to take her with her; during Solstice when Xena tells Gabrielle she is a gift to Xena; and the final time where Xena teaches Gabrielle all parts of the pinch and pronounces, "If I had thirty seconds to live, I'd spend them looking into your eyes." Xena backs away, with Gabrielle saying that she doesn't want to give Xena up, and Xena replies, "Remember Gabrielle, I'll always be with you, even when I'm not." Elizabeth Laidlaw says this in just the right way that you realize how silly that statement is. Gabrielle reinforces it by asking the audience, "What the h-ll does that mean?"
 Gabrielle has been convinced that she should take Synonomous on, but has not planned what to do next. 'Nonny' (a nickname for Synonomous Gabrielle makes up) suggests they look up a new, potentially fake religion forming down by the river. So off they go. We next see Androgeny and her (or his) odd assortment of followers, a chicken (whom we met earlier), a pig, and a lamb. In this scene, we see and hear the first original song written for this production. "Praise Me," describes each of the characters, from Androgeny to Pig. What we learn in this scene is that Androgeny not only preaches praising her, but also learning to believe in yourself and accepting who and what you are ("praise yourself").
 Many people were puzzled over the symbolic or allegorical meaning of the animals, but Elizabeth Laidlaw said Claudia Allen, the playwright, simply wanted animals for their comedic value. Originally, she had meant to set the play in Egypt and to use animals common to Egypt, such as the cat. In the end, she opted for barnyard animals. One of my friends pointed out the animals' commonality, that all three were victims, i.e., they could be eaten. What better set of animals could there be to follow Androgeny, who taught personal empowerment, than victim-like creatures?
 Scott Duff played Androgeny from the previews through all but the last three weekends. If you attend a play often enough, as I did, and see two different actors play the same character, it is possible to get a better understanding of the creative and acting process. Duff's portrayal was over the top, as would be expected when playing an evangelistic preacher. But when Alexandra Billings took over, I learned how widely "over the top" can vary between actors [see Alex Billings In the Head of Interview]. Duff played the character; Billings did, too, but what made Billings' portrayal so vivid was that she played with the character, as well. Every time I saw her, Androgeny did something a little differently. No doubt it kept the character fresh for the actor, just as it did for the audience. I also discovered that Billings has a powerful set of lungs as she sang an overlying note with the rest of the animals singing a "praise me" chorus underneath. It went on and on and on….
 We first see the newly resurrected Xena asleep with her guardian angel, Gaybriel, hovering over her. Since he is hovering with a drawn sword, Xena, upon awakening, concludes he is about to attack her and begins knocking him around. He is no match for her and gives up after Xena easily punches him in the arm. Gaybriel certainly appears to stereotypically live up to his name. Jason Vizza, the first Gaybriel, played the character with an effeminate swish and frequent shrill shouts, just to get the point across. Jason was the stereotypical angel, blond and beautiful. He was dressed in a skimpy silver skirt with matching weskit and boots. As angels should, he was also wearing wings and glitter.
 As with Androgeny, Gaybriel was replaced with a new actor, John La Guardia. John's take on the character was just as hilarious as Jason's. One thing we noticed was that John's Gaybriel had little wings added to his boots. They made him seem most fey, which fit the character quite well, in my opinion. Adjustments were made to the character's lines, and because John is not as tall as Jason, there were a several "short" jokes.
 During the Q & A session after the performance while the Chicago BardCon was held, the actors and producers made it clear that tinkering was always an ongoing thing. If a new actor came on board, then his or her attributes might become part of the show. This sort of thing, again, was very much in the spirit of the television production and of television shows, in general. Specific attributes or personal history of the actor cast as a particular character becomes part of that character. This is where the theater and television truly intersect. Xena Live 2 was not improvisational, but it had loose boundaries, which must have been a lot of fun for the actors and the rest of the crew.
 At this point in the show, Gaybriel tells Xena he is her guardian angel, there to help her. He is probably a bit miffed that Xena attacked him, because he teases Xena about Gabrielle and withholds the information that Gabrielle is still alive until the last moment, after listing the people she knew who had died. "Let's see - Callisto dead, Ephiny dead, Joxer dead, your mom dead …" Drawing it out infuriates her. Death has not seemed to change her very much. Xena, cranky and suspicious as ever, refuses his help. But after Gaybriel flounces off the stage, Xena finds herself at a loss because he failed to tell her where Gabrielle is. At this point Ares makes his entrance and we have our first commercial, as the two characters stare at each other in surprise.
We Interrupt This Program…
Waiting in line for the doors to open with the ghosts of About Face plays past.
 Xena Live 1 used commercials and the same is true of Xena Live 2. They were both written to be humorous and to promote the About Face Theatre's supporters and sponsors. In Xena Live 2's case, these were from Alize liqueur to Subaru. The concept mimics television shows and provides a chance to let the audience know who the theater's sponsors are, doing so through entertaining means.
 The highlight eventually became Alex Billings' "commercial" (see the About Face theatre advertisement where I describe the commercials). She does a great Kate Hepburn and each time she performed it, it became longer and longer. By the time we got to the final performance, it was probably well over 5 minutes, and most likely longer. She always wandered far afield but there were points at which she could hook onto to get back and close her ad down. I do know I laughed so hard that I could barely breathe. Each advertisement was written humorously, in part because people recall funny ads better and because Xena Live 2 is a comedy. The ads were sprinkled throughout the show, but they are listed and described at the end of the synopsis simply for better telling this story.