Growing up in Bensonhurst, actress Kerry Butler roller-skated like any other kid, but when the time came to strap on skates for “Xanadu,” the Broadway production in which she plays the lead role of Kira, it wasn’t so easy anymore.
“Being on skates is really hard,” Butler told GO Brooklyn. “They put me in roller-skating lessons for three hours a week for a month before we started. I learned how to skate backwards, and I thought I was really good, but was nowhere near professional.
“But when I got into rehearsals and hadn’t covered general blocking, and I did not know what to do — I started taking lessons during my lunch break and finally, by the time we started previews, I felt really confident. I told the director that I probably wouldn’t think about acting until a month into the rehearsals, because all I could think about was what which foot to stop with.”
Butler began her professional career early, starring in commercials for laundry detergent and Dixie Cups at the age of 4. It was when she saw “Annie” on the Great White Way at age 9, though, that Butler was sure she wanted to be on stage.
“My mom had taken me to do commercials, and I kept begging her to let me do it again,” said Butler. “But she wanted me to have a normal childhood, so she stopped — it’s a lot of work for the mother, too! Then, when I saw ‘Annie,’ she knew that it was real for me.”
Butler landed a gig — paid in ice cream, no less! — at a nightclub in Manhattan that featured a cast of singing children (Sarah Jessica Parker was a previous cast member). From there, she found an agent, and set about building a career for herself, taking on more commercials, and participating in shows at Regina Pacis in Dyker Heights and Xaverian High School in Bay Ridge, the flaxen-haired star told GO Brooklyn, after snipping the ribbon on the new TKTS discount theater ticket booth in Downtown Brooklyn’s Metrotech plaza on July 10.
Butler recalled landing parts on television shows like “One Life to Live” and “Another World,” and she was so successful, that she paid her college tuition with money earned from commercials.
After graduating, Butler joined a European tour of “Oklahoma!” as Ado Annie and, upon completing the tour, came back to New York and landed her first Broadway role as Miss Jones in “Blood Brothers.”
From there, Butler’s star began to rise. She played Eponine in “Les Miserables” and Belle in “Beauty and the Beast,” originated the role of Penny Pingleton in “Hairspray,” and took the stage as Audrey in “Little Shop of Horrors.”
These days, she not only straps on skates for her Tony-nominated performance in “Xanadu” — which will feature Whoopi Goldberg as a guest star from July 29 through Sept. 7 — six nights a week, but plays a recurring role in “Cashmere Mafia,” a television series about to enter its second season, and, in May, released “Faith, Trust & Pixie Dust,” her first album.
It’s the on-stage work, however, that keeps Butler the busiest.
“[‘Xanadu’] is the hardest show I’ve ever had to do,” said Butler. “But it’s really fun. It’s only an hour-and-a-half and, on a good day, the audience laughs non-stop.”
Kerry Butler can be seen in “Xanadu” Tuesday through Saturday at 8 pm and Sundays at 3 pm at the Helen Hayes Theatre (240 W. 44th St. at Eighth Avenue in Manhattan). Tickets are $51.25 - $111.25. For information, call (212) 239-6200 or visit www.xanaduonbroadway.com.