“Xanadu” benefit production unites community for a cause


The tagline of the musical “Xanadu” is “To love someone else and to create art, that is Xanadu.” This message has brought community members together to put on the musical as a benefit production at the Hale Center Theater in Orem  (HTCO) to raise money for Chris Clark, who was recently diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS).

Justin Hackworth
Photo of Chris Clark enjoying a good laugh. (Justin Hackworth)

Clark is an actor, director and producer. He is also an associate professor in the theater department at UVU and the recipient of the 2013 National Outstanding Director Award from the Kennedy Center American College Theatre Festival. He was diagnosed in April with ALS, a neurodegenerative disease that affects motor skills.

Clark directed the musical “Xanadu” at the HCTO in 2012 with Jenny Barlow as the choreographer. When Clark was diagnosed, Barlow approached him and asked him “what would make everything right in the world?” Clark joked that he wanted to see “Xanadu.”

“Xanadu” is a musical comedy based on a 1980s cult film. It is the story of Greek muses who go down to Earth to ultimately build a giant roller rink.

“There are some silly lines that have some deep meaning, and I think that’s what makes the show so weird,” Korianne Johnson, the original music director for “Xanadu,” said.

Clark remembers watching “Xanadu” with his friends in high school and laughing about how funny it was.

Barlow emailed the Hale producers a week after talking to Clark about “Xanadu” and asked if they would host the production. The Hale provided her with staff, box office, dressers and costumers free of charge. She then emailed all the original cast and invited them to participate. The cast members have had children, moved out of Utah and started different careers since the 2012 show. However, they have taken leaves of absence and rearranged their schedules to travel to Utah to perform in “Xanadu.”

Johnson has also returned to help with the production.

“This is very extra for all of us, and we all want to be there despite the sacrifice. We want to be there, and we want to do this for Chris and his family,” Johnson said.

The minimum fund-raising goal from the production was $40,000. After just the first weekend of shows and a silent auction, the goal has been surpassed, and Barlow is now hoping to reach the maximum goal of $70,000.

“It just all adds up to this huge amount of money, and amount of love, and amount of laughter and friendship, and it’s really just like a miracle, honestly,” Barlow said.

Carter Thompson
Artwork for the Xanadu benefit production for Chris Clark. (Carter Thompson)

Clark has been trying to attend all of the performances to show his thanks for the community and their support. He said the community donations will make his life easier as his illness progresses. Clark also said the production has brought joy to him in this difficult time.

“It’s the perfect night of entertainment. It’s hilarious and stupid and entertaining for 90 minutes. It’s just perfect,” Clark said. “This means a ton to me and to my family. This has been a really tough year for us, but things like this—getting together with a group of people and laughing and having a fun night—is exactly what I need and what they need, so I’m just incredibly grateful to everyone who’s been helping.”

The “Xanadu” benefit production has been an example of a community coming together for a good cause, according to Barlow.

“It’s overwhelming to process because everyone—and it’s hundreds of people—they’re just sacrificing so much, so much of their time, so much of their resources, so much of their heart,” Barlow said.

Barlow said even though she, Clark and Johnson all make fun of the show’s cheesy lines, it’s been a show that’s brought the community together.

“It’s so funny that this campy little show is like the thing that was the magic thing to do in this moment, to laugh in the face of adversity and rise together with love and hope,” Barlow said.

Johnson said the cast often quotes the tagline of the musical: “To love someone else and to create art, that is Xanadu.” It has become the embodiment of what they’re trying to do with this benefit.

“We’re Xanadu,” Barlow said. “We love each other, and we create art together—all of us.”

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