The ArtsPerforming Arts: Xanadu
Performed April 27-May 2 at
Bob Carr Performing Arts Centre
Once every great while, there comes a Broadway show that can open your mind, dazzle your eyes and fill your heart with wonder. Xanadu was not that show. In fact, Xanadu might possibly hail from the same mirror universe as the goatee-sporting Evil Spock.
Xanadu, which recently finished its local run as part of the Fairwind’s Broadway Across America-Orlando series, tells the semi-epic tale of Sonny Malone (Max Von Essen), a circa-1980 chalk mural artist scratching out an existence in Venice Beach. Sonny’s got a bitchin’ headband and a burning desire to build an edifice unifying artistry and athletics (aka a “roller disco”); he just lacks the bread and balls to fulfill his vision.
Enter the nine muses of ancient Greek mythology, tasked with spurring human creativity. Their leader, Clio, cleverly disguises herself as mortal “Kira” by wearing leg warmers, a pair of roller skates and an Aussie accent. Kira inspires Sonny to team up with Danny Maguire (Larry Marshall), an elderly musician-turned-magnate with whom she once had a dalliance. But the demigod gets detoured when her sabotaging sisters Melpomene (Natasha Yvette Williams) and Calliope (Annie Golden) curse Kira into violating the muse must-not: Don’t fall in love with a mortal. Kira gets stuck on Sonny’s short-shorts, and pretty soon she’s warbling on winged horseback (like an airbrushed T-shirt come to life) straight into an Olympian rumble of Harryhausen proportions.
If all this sounds oddly familiar, you must be a victim of the very worst of ’80s cinema. Xanadu is a stage adaptation of the 1980 Olivia Newton-John film of the same name, which spawned five hits by Newton-John and Electric Light Orchestra. ELO fans can look forward to hearing “Evil Women” and “Strange Magic” butchered into eardrum-breaking burlesques; group songs like “I’m Alive” are plagued by pitchy harmonies.
Even roller-skating fans were disappointed. The stage was stuffed with two-dozen lucky audience members, who looked like they were having much more fun than the cast. As a result, the skating floor was reduced to a skimpy oval; it made me distressingly nostalgic for Starlight Express. Sure, the opening-night audience chortled at self-satirizing (and terrifyingly prophetic) lines like “art isn’t for the well-educated or intelligent, but for people like you.” But they also went crazy for the spinning disco ball, so go figure. I can’t write a better review than the one the show gives itself: “Children’s theatre for 40-year-old gay people.” I may not be in the in-crowd, but I know pandering pablum when I see it. Thank goodness that Xanadu has partied its way out of town, but I’ll be out in the parking lot waiting for the next show in the series, Spring Awakening, to arrive on May 18.