So how is Whoopi Goldberg spending her six-week summer vacation from “The View”? Growling her way through the Electric Light Orchestra’s “Evil Woman,” eight times a week in the Broadway musical “Xanadu.”
The performer stepped into the production July 29, replacing Jackie Hoffman as a malicious Grecian muse in the campy spoof of the infamous ’80s roller-disco movie.
“I just think it’s a fun musical,” enthused Goldberg, sitting in an overstuffed chair in her “The View” dressing room, the day the television show wrapped for the summer. “‘Xanadu’ is a fun show for families, and it’s a fun show for a date. If you don’t know someone really well, it’s a great place to come and laugh. I just thought: ‘Why not this?”’
Goldberg only had two weeks rehearsal before joining the musical about a beautiful muse named Kira (Kerry Butler) who inspires a would-be artist (Cheyenne Jackson) to create a roller disco. Goldberg plays one of the two muses trying to thwart their love affair.
“I am not as quick as I used to be,” the performer said with a laugh. “But when you have a great piece — that helps. The entertainment is there. It’s how you interpret it.
“And the kids in the cast — they are fantastic,” she continued. “They lead me. They know when I get lost. They come and they dance over and take me where I need to be. Everybody’s been really great about the fact that I’m not 100 percent solid — but I will be by Monday or Tuesday (of next week).”
Learning the show’s choreography was the hardest part, the performer said, even though she doesn’t have to roller skate in the show. Goldberg did that at the 2008 Tony Awards, which she hosted.
“I just skated on and hoped for the best,” she said of the experience.
“Whoopi’s very adventurous,” said director Christopher Ashley. “And intuitive. She’s impulsive in the best possible way and totally funny. The surprise to me is that she is really humble. We tried to rebuild the curtain call a little bit to feature her more. But she was really clear, saying ‘I’m here to be a member of the cast — not be center stage.”’
“I am not the star of the show,” Goldberg said. “I came in to replace somebody. People know I’m there. So I don’t need a special bow.”
As for her singing, Goldberg describes it as “odd ... I have a Zero Mostel/Rex Harrison voice.”
But right for “Xanadu,” according to the show’s music director, Eric Stern.
“She’s very naturally musical and has an instinctive grasp of pop,” Stern said. “What’s nice about Whoopi is that her voice matches her natural delivery. In some people, you get scared because their voice sounds like somebody else — or sounds disembodied from who they are.”
As for comedy, “Xanadu” allows for a bit of improvisation. Hoffman, for example, channels a bit of Cher in one number. Goldberg tried doing Carol Channing instead.
“I rehearsed it for two weeks that way,” Goldberg recalled. “And then I got bored with it. ... Now I’m just trying to figure out who’s going to come in. It could be Eartha Kitt, it could be anybody. You never know who is going to show up.”
In addition to “Xanadu,” “The View” and an evening with “View” cohort Joy Behar at Foxwoods, the Connecticut gambling palace, on Sept. 13, Goldberg is wearing a producer’s hat for two upcoming stage shows planned for New York.
One, a revival of “For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide When the Rainbow Is Enuf,” Ntozake Shange’s prose-poem portrait of black women in America, has just postponed its fall opening. A backer dropped out but “I believe we are on the cusp of getting money from another source,” Goldberg said. The show will star the Grammy-winning India.Arie, lauded by Goldberg as “a magnificent young woman with a magnificent voice.”
Then there is “Bricktop,” a musical about the legendary 1920s performer and nightclub owner who was a sensation in Paris. “It’s a story I’ve always wanted to tell because I always found her a fascinating woman,” Goldberg said. No word yet on casting.
But for the moment, there’s her gig at the Helen Hayes Theatre, where Goldberg will be in the cast of “Xanadu” through Sept. 7.