Theatre Review: “It’s Like Children’s Theatre for 40-Year-Old Gay People”

review

Xanadu, book by Douglas Carter Beane, music and lyrics by Jeff Lynne and John Farrar; produced by Starlight Theatre: seen August 16, 2011

You know it’s going to be an interesting night when during the curtain speech, not only does the banner displaying their last show of next season (for the announcement) not roll down, but the scrim that has the ‘chalk drawing’ of the muses for the opening of Xanadu does fall partially down – and you see a tech person climbing up the scaffolding during the national anthem.

Francis Scott Key would be so proud.

If this had been a more serious musical (if that phrase isn’t considered an oxymoron) like The King and I or Guys and Dolls, I might have been worried. But for Xanadu, a musical spoof of the 1980 cult movie, it just made the night that much more fun.

For those unfamiliar with what little plot there is, it’s about the Greek muse Kira, who decides to inspire an artist in Venice in the ’80s. The only problem? It’s not Venice, Italy – it’s Venice Beach, California … and it’s not 1780, but 1980. So, in her attempt to inspire the artist Sonny to achieve the greatest artistic creation of all time, he – of course – comes up with creating a roller disco. Filled with songs by Electric Light Orchestra and Olivia Newton-John (who played Kira in the movie), there’s a subplot involving one (well, technically two) of Kira’s jealous sisters who determine to make the two fall in love (which of course Zeus has forbidden).

Elizabeth Stanley as Kira. Photo courtesy Starlight Theatre
Elizabeth Stanley as Kira. Photo courtesy Starlight Theatre

Let’s get the comparisons out of the way right away. I love the movie in which this is based on. Gene Kelly’s last motion picture, it’s one of my guilty pleasure films and when I was younger, I used to listen to the soundtrack (which I owned on LP – look it up, kids) over and over, falling asleep to the sounds of “Suspended in Time” and “Whenever You’re Away From Me”. Yes, it’s a silly plot for a silly musical – but that’s kind of what makes it work for me. And that’s why I was so eager to see the musical it’s based on.

Tongue firmly in cheek, the musical makes no attempt to take itself, the music, or the movie on which it’s based on at all seriously. In fact, the subplot mentioned above? Not even in the movie – and I bet the whole reason it got in there was to add ELO’s “Evil Woman”, sung so wrong it has to be right by Alix Korey (as Melpommene) and Annie Golden (as Calliope).

Elizabeth Stanley does a decent job as Clio/Kira, with her hilariously awful Australian accent as part of her ‘disguise’ so Sonny won’t recognize her, throwing in every stereotype from Crocodile Dundee you can think of. It’s just different enough from Olivia Newton-John but with a wink and a nod to her portrayal to make the role unique.

Darren Ritchie as Sonny seemed a little disconnected, but I have to give him some kudos for his work during “Suddenly”. In a phone booth that’s moving a good chunk of the time, while singing to Kira but also on the phone, he somehow still manages to put on roller skates: bet most theatre majors never train to do that!

Local Kip Niven, although not bad as Danny Maguire (the owner of the building Sonny wants to turn into the roller disco, and a prior recipient of Clio’s inspiration when he was Sonny’s age), is no Gene Kelly, but rather speak-sings the lines like Rex Harrison. The rest of the muses (who also double as several other characters) all had way too much fun with their various parts.

I also have to give a shout out to the audience member in the blue shirt on stage (for no announced reason, there were about 10 or 12 members of the audience on stage) who upstaged the show a couple of times with his obvious enjoyment of the show, from dancing and wearing sunglasses in a too-cool-for-school attitude. The various muses interacted (both on and off stage) with audience members, so it worked.

Act I, for the most part, flies fast – the pacing only dropping a bit in the latter part – and therefore seems much longer than Act II. The songs that weren’t in the original movie, for the most part, seem shoehorned into the show, although (as with “Evil Woman” above) they worked better when it was used for humor. And “Dancin'”, the merge of ’40s Andrew Sisters and ’80s hair band sounds, wasn’t quite the merge I hoped (and was in the movie), just sort of happening. But I laughed several times, and can say hands down it was the best musical on roller skates I’ve ever seen. (For the record, I’ve never seen Starlight Express). It’s definitely worth seeing.

Quote of the evening? The young (maybe 8?) girl behind me, after a certain line, asking her parents, “What’s a nickel bag?” Oh, to be a fly on the wall when they have THAT conversation.

Xanadu will be performing until August 21, and more information can be found at www.kcstarlight.com.

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