The Official Xena Magazine #3
The Making of Lyre, Lyre, Hearts on Fire
by Kate Barker
The interior set resembles something out of a Las Vegas cabaret. Multi-coloured disco lights hang just out of sight of the cameras. Spark-jets on either side of a sequinned throne are primed for their mid-scene pyrotechnic display... and Amazons and dancing boys in glittering gold shorts stand ready to perform.
Choreographer Shona McCullagh gives out the instructions. "We're going to go from the top of the second chorus. Play back the tape..."
Halfway through the number, the glitter cannon goes off with a loud bang, showering actors and dancers alike as the shimmering substance falls like rain.
It's the revival of disco. In ancient Greece.
This is not a scene that is typical of Xena: Warrior Princess. But it is typical of this particular episode; this is Dancing in the Moonlight, just one of the many fantasy spectaculars in the musical episode Lyre, Lyre, Hearts on Fire.
Like the dramatic third season musical episode The Bitter Suite, Lyre, Lyre features a score by resident composer Joseph LoDuca. However, the similarity ends there. 'Where Bitter Suite could be described as a dark and twisted odyssey, Lyre, Lyre is for the most part a light-hearted fantasy fight for possession of -- what else -- a golden lyre. The episode features Xena's ex-partner, the war lord Draco (Jay Laga'aia), still under the influence of one of Cupid's arrows (from the episode Comedy of Eros) and also still in love with Gabrielle. Throw in Draco's army, a tribe of dancing Amazons and yet another member of the Joxer clan, and there is only one thing for it: a Battle of the Bands -- Xena style.
Also, unlike the earlier Bitter Suite, the songs in Lyre, Lyre are mostly variations on the original Xena theme, though this is not always immediately recognisable It's not unusual in the world of Xena for the powers that be to play with alterations, whether of music, characters or history. "We just take everything," comments Lucy Lawless with a smile, "and put a little spin on it..."
Leading the show in the piece Dancing in the Moonlight is Ted Raimi as Joxer's second brother, Jace, a flamboyant individual whom Executive Producer Rob Tapert fondly describes as "the family disgrace". As evidenced by Raimi's performance, it's an apt description. During the dance number, Raimi struts to the beat while miming to the Latino voice on the playback tape. With his hair gelled back in a Fifties rock 'n' roll style, and a costume composed largely of frothy pink lace, Raimi looks like a cross between Liberace, Elton John and Elvis Presley. It's certainly a spectacle to behold... and he's just the first one you see.
To Raimi's left are the Amazons; in reality, they are professional dancers who have gone through three audition processes to win these featured roles. (The original concept was for the Amazons to be a travelling band or performing troupe, with a look similar to the Spice Girls. The recently formed New Zealand girl band TrueBliss were suggested for the roles, but they were on tour at the time of filming.) During a break between shots, the dancing Amazons are hustled over to a corner of the studio for a crash course in the Moonlight Latino backup lyrics.
A little behind the main action, the townspeople extras are taken through basic dance moves, ranging from simply clapping in time (not that easy!) to faking drum movements in appropriate places. These must be practised a number of times in order for the crew working spotlights to track through the crowd and highlight the right people at the right time. The extras are also given ear plugs, as both the spark-jets and glitter cannons go off loudly and in close proximity
McCullagh and director Mark Beesley put cast and crew through their paces, rehearsing first the movement and miming the song's lyrics without music, then finally with the help of the pre-recorded musical playback. They start one sequence from the "cheeky squeeze", where Jace pinches his brother Joxer's cheeks, an effect made possi ble with the help of Raimi's body double.
After successfully filming this shot using body doubles standing in for Xena, Gabrielle and Draco, Lawless and Renee O'Connor are brought in for the final section of the song. It has taken more than an hour to set up for this last sequence, but cast and crew take it in their stride. First Assistant Director Anna Gunneston warns of a "major reset" if this take doesn't go as planned.
"Just out of curiosity," muses Raimi through his pink lace, "if anybody messes something up... not that it would be me..."
Final checks are made of props, actors and effects. O'Connor (looking more like an Amazon since her outfit was changed from green cloth to brown leather for Xena's fifth season) wonders if she and Lawless should sing along. However the decision is made that their characters should be amazed at the spectacle going on around them, rather than familiar enough with it to know the words. Lawless is laced into her armour, the actors take their marks in the chorus line of dancers, and Gunneston delivers last-minute instructions. After promising no bombs and no loud noises in this take, she adds, "there'll just be falling glitter."
Everything seems ready "First positions, please; we're going to shoot!"
The sequence goes according to plan. On the final note, Raimi slides across the floor and lands on his knees, hands held high in true musical fashion. The shot has been a success... and that's another minute of film to be sent to post-production.
All this work has only been for a couple of minutes' screen time -- nowhere near the whole song -- and there are several more numbers in Lyre, Lyre which require just as much effort and talent to put together.
Lawless sounds a little dubious of her own talents in the dancing area. "For me, that was the most difficult thing of all -- I'm not a dancer. I was mouthing the words and trying to think what my feet were doing; it's wildly difficult to shoot musicals!" Having said that, Lawless does acknowledge the positive aspects of the comedic episode, describing Lyre, Lyre as "challenging for us as actors and really incredibly enjoyable."
She also praises fellow cast-members including Raimi ("Ted's got a great singing voice") and O'Connor ("Renee's a good dancer, she had no trouble! ") for their performances.
Producer Tapert describes Lyre, Lyre as a fun collection of musical extravaganzas, where "a bunch of plots hang it all together." A passing crew member lightly tosses out the comment, "it's one of our smaller episodes..."
Musicals are a lot of work at the best of times, but on the Xena set, it's a welcome relief to indulge in the fantasy of doing something different and fun. Lyre, Lyre, Hearts on Fire is an apt title; it's an episode that definitely turns up the heat.
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