Olivia Newton-John surprises Yankton High 2020 graduates at virtual commencement

YANKTON, S.D. (KELO) – Despite canceling their final show of the year due to COVID-19, a high school theatre department is still getting time in the spotlight.

It was meant to be an out-of-this-world production.

“It is, like, the most ridiculous show that I have done and maybe the most ridiculous thing I’ll ever do. It’s really hard to explain,” Senior & Co-Lead of the Production Claire Kouri said.

Yankton High School’s theatre department spent a month dedicating time after school to bring their adaptation of the 1980’s sci-fi cult classic film Xanadu to the stage.

“It’s daily practices; they practice all day on Saturdays from about 9:30 to about 4, um… they’ve been putting in some hours,” Yankton High School Drama Teacher Amy Miner said.

But due to COVID-19, they had closed the curtain early on the spring musical production.

“It was – it was hard. It was really hard, but I… Things like state basketball was getting postponed, so I kind of had a feeling it wasn’t going to work out,” Kouri said.

“Once it got – once school kept getting canceled, and it was like, ‘Oh, we’re not starting till the month of May,’ then I knew it was over,” Senior & Co-Lead of the Production Bailey Nielsen said.

Seniors Bailey Nielsen and Claire Kouri were to play the two main leads in the show. Their director Amy Miner, still wanting to make her students feel like stars, decided to reach out to one.

“Hello Yankton High School Graduates! This is Olivia Newton-John,” Singer/Songwriter Olivia Newton-John said.

Newton-John played the lead role in the original film. She made a surprise pre-recorded appearance in the classes virtual commencement shining a spotlight on the department.

“Just remember: this too will pass, and you will get to do it eventually and it will be a lot of fun; I had a lot of fun making the movie. So I’m sending you all the best,” Newton-John said.

The video showcased Newton-John congratulating the class and sending her condolences for the canceled show. Like a neon light she added some color to what seemed like a dim finale.

“My jaw dropped, and I just couldn’t – I can’t even, like believe it happened. It was crazy,” Kouri said.

“It was insane to see… the real Olivia Newton-John on the screen just talking directly to the YHS seniors. It was… so surreal,” Nielsen said.

“It’s given us all something to smile about, talk about, and it’s given our seniors something they’ll remember forever,” Miner said.

They may have not made it to Xanadu, but their graduation was truly out of this world.

Miner says she hopes to still put on the production next summer with the original cast.