Archive for May, 2010

Review – Xanadu the Musical – Bob Carr Performing Arts Centre, Orlando

May 4, 2010

Last year I set up a trip to New York with the express intent of seeing Xanadu: the Musical while I was in town. The West End Whingers saw it (and loved it); I dreamed it; and thanks to the miracle of a touring show, now I at last would get to see it, in Orlando of all places (last stop is apparently Wilmington Delaware), where I was in town for a conference. To make things even better, I was going to get to see it with my best friend Mary, my former college roommate with whom I had once thrown a Xanadu party. CAN WE SAY GENIUS?

I was a little worried, though. Would Mary be okay with a non-purist approach to the show? Would I? We are both huge Xanadu fans, and even though I was excited that the music was being kept alive, I was worried I would find it too camp and not be able to enjoy myself. While I can laugh at how bad Xanadu is, I do, however, have a deep love for the music, and there is a point where I am sure I’d find too much was too much.

I am pleased to say, though, Xanadu, while failing to be a work of genius, is both joyous and happy while still showing an unabashed love of the movie on which it is based. Much fun is made of the idea that Sonny (Max Von Essen)’s idea of a temple of the arts “for all time” is a roller disco; similarly, rather than playing up the tortured artist angle, Sonny is now a simple chalk street artist – and by simple, I mean every time Danny MacGuire (Larry Marshall, reprising the role played in the movie by Gene Kelly) made a joke, whether about vaudeville or big band, Sonny laughed and then said, “I don’t get it.” Many of the plot holes are now fodder for jokes, such as how Kira (Anika Larsen, in the movie role played by Olivia Newton-John) somehow is a Greek demi-god with an Australian accent; however, the musical also takes care of the fact that most people who watched this movie (and probably who watched the play) have really very little idea about what a muse was in the first place. It also adds in a whole new angle for why Kira would fall in love with Sonny in the first place (a war for power between the muses) and how it was Danny got to be as rich as he is.

While I could fuss about some of the songs being sung too quickly when they should have been drawn out (“Suspended in Time” needs to be a little more heart-rending, I think), I found I really enjoyed the music they added to the show: “Evil Woman” (by ELO), which became the focus of a fun and silly duet between the two mean muses (Natasha Yvette Williams and Annie Golden – and when Natasha shook her boobs on both sides of one audience member’s head, I about peed myself laughing); and “Have You Never Been Mellow,” a song sung to Zeus to try to get him to not banish Kira for the crime of falling in love. This scene, set on Olympus, was completely different from the original, with Medusa, a cyclops, and a rather handsome centaur all joining in, and it was really just comedy gold – and a fun musical number.

This show reminds me about what I’m always saying about books that are adapted to movies; you have to accept that the two mediums are different and what makes one a success doesn’t always work in the other – you have to judge each in its own category and not against the original. Hamlet as a ballet can’t have a “To be or not to be” speech, because ballerinas aren’t supposed to speak on stage; but it can still show what it means to be torn between duty and love. Xanadu the Musical took a lot of the plot of Xanadu, kept its joie de vivre and most of its score, teased it where it deserved it, honored it (with nods to the dance moves and costuming of the original), expanded it (where needed), and turned the whole thing into a great show with a running time of under two hours. We were all laughing, and I noticed that the audience members seated on stage were happily dancing and waving their glowsticks at the end. It was impossible to be offended because the original movie did not have a Pegasus to carry Kira away to Mount Olympus; the whole thing was fantastic, and I’m so pleased I finally got to see it at last. Highly recommended!

(This review is for the May 2nd, 2010 6PM show of the touring production, which came to Orlando end of April/beginning of May. Next and last stop is Wilmington, Delaware; catch it if you can and don’t forget to wear your legwarmers.)