While I love going into a show cold – not even knowing if it’s comedy or tragedy – I was unable to do this in the case of Southwark Theater’s Xanadu. Not only had I seen Xanadu on stage before, I’m a life long fan of the movie and even saw it when it was first released in the cinema. It’s worse, though – not only have I seen it time and time again on DVD (and VHS), I have listened to the soundtrack so many times I can sing along – and not just to the big songs, but to the Bsides you can only hear if you happen to have bought a copy of the singles on 45 (“Jungle Drums” and “Fool” being the two outtakes). Hi, my name is Webcowgirl and I am a Xanadu fangrrl.
This means it’s hard for me not to be hypercritical at a stage presentation of what should be seen (in my twisted world) as a timeless classic. I dug my heels in at the additional songs (two by Olivia Newton John – “Have You Never Been Mellow” and “Physical” plus a couple from the ELO back catalogue) and grumbled over song arrangements and the loss of verses for my favorite tunes. But overall … I LOVED IT WITH A BIG PINK RAINBOW UNICORN ON TOP.
The thing is, Xanadu is a flawed movie. It has plot holes you can drive a truck through. It has stunningly bad acting. And it has amazing music and dance scenes. So the people who made this into a stage show took the badness (the male lead is just very poorly acted) and made them into jokes which should be funny enough for even a non-clued-up audience to get; then added all sorts of bits from the original (i.e. some of the amazing choreography) and patched over some of the problems (i.e. why does the heroine, Kira, talk in an Australian accent) then layered on all sorts of fun and, let’s admit it, camp (was there a centaur in the original or a pegasus? Uh, no, but both of them are likely to have tears rolling from your eyes). The audience was ho ho-ing and ha ha-ing and just eating it up.
It’s fortunate they were so amenable, because the preview performance I saw had a few problems with the sound quality: people singing and not being miked, or (worse) audible talking from back stage picked up by not-switched-off mikes. And if I’m applying my non-Xanadu loving faculties, I think there were some moments where the singing was not quite up to par, particularly for the actor playing Danny Maguire (although he put the role across quite well otherwise). But … Carly Anderson just embodied bubbly charisma as Kira, and, my goodness, Alison Jiear just brought down the house as evil muse Melpomene (in a subplot completely missing from the original, but, oh well, they bought me when they stuck in the Pegasus). And all of the jokey asides …. let me tell you a secret: I’ve already got tickets to go again, but I knew I was going to want to see it more than once … and it left me feeling so elated I think I may try to see it a third time.
(This review is for a preview performance that took place on October 20th, 2015. It continues through November 21st. I recommend trying to get seats in the center section, preferably three rows back from the barriers around the stage so you can see over them.)