Posts Tagged ‘xanadu the musical’

Review – Xanadu (the stage musical) – Southwark Playhouse

October 22, 2015

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.

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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.)

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.)

Review – Forbidden Broadway Goes to Rehab – 47th Street Theater

January 3, 2009

(Summary: I laughed a lot. Good if you have a few shots beforehand.)

Christmas Day in New York City: what would be the sure cure for not just the claustrophobia of too many relatives, but the saccharine-sweet taste of a Disneyfied Great White Way? Why, a musical revue that mocks all of it, aimed a bitter old gits who’ve seen so many shows they feel free to walk out at intermission if they feel like they’re not getting their $120 worth out of the evening. In short, this play was aimed right square at ME, and it was #2 on my list of things to see in New York, since August: Osage County had blissfully made it to the stage of London’s National Theatre and Xanadu had rather crushingly closed … and I’d manage to score tickets for and see South Pacific already. So Forbidden Broadway was number two on my list of shows to see – especially since this is supposed to be its very final incarnation. With tourists galore clogging the line at the TKTS booth, debating “Little Mermaid” or “Chicago,” we had no problem getting ourselves seats … and we were off!

Per my Playbill (God, it was nice to get free programs again!), the performers for the evening were Christina Bianco, Gina Kreiezmar, Michael West and (listed on the marquee) William Selby subbing for James Donegan (and David Caldwell on piano). The theater itself was tiny, maybe an 80 – 100 seater – decidedly intimate. The evening opened with a sort of “Alcoholics Anonymous” meeting: “Hi, my name is William … I haven’t been to a good show in 60 days. I am a Broadway addict.” “Hi, William.” Each of the group went around to introduce themselves (I liked the celebrity addict, who hadn’t stalked someone for all of six or so hours), then went into their first song, which introduced the theme of addiction to theater … in spite of the thin quality of offerings.

Then we went into an endless series of musical vignettes roasting most of the shows on at the moment, and even a few that aren’t (actually, I think only the Annie bit was for a show not happening – no, they had Xanadu, too – guess that bit was too good to cut!). They repeatedly mocked the Disneyfication of Broadway (I found the Little Mermaid number hysterical, especially after reading the pseudo-story in the Playbill about the actual star of that show – “As a young girl in Denver, Sierra dreamed of two things: being Ariel and going to Broadway.” Not bloody likely!), but countered this with a send-up of Spring Awakening, in which the actors whined about how they were never going to be able to take a show with so much sex on tour.

Straight shows were teased, too. I got a big kick out of the Daniel Radcliffe/Equus bit, which had the actor show up on stage in full Hogwarts gear, then basically strip down to a Fosse-like hat over his crotch. August: Osage County not only had a boxing match between the matriarch and her eldest daughter, but had several of the plot elements’ blatant debts to O’Neill mentioned – highlighting some parallels I’d apparently missed (since I’ve only seen one of his plays). There was also a sort of Sondheim tribute, in which Sondheim complained about how he keeps getting revived with only three piece bands to handle his full orchestration and “Bernadette Peters” begged him to write a new part for her, since he’d fried her voice.

Generallly, this show required little knowledge of the shows being mocked, as the witty lyrics were more than entertaining enough on their own. I would have got more out of it if I’d seen more of these shows, no doubt: I was about peeing myself during the South Pacific scene, especially when “Nellie Forbush” ran away from “DeBecque” because he had child … actors. And there was a certain amount of Broadway gossip that I’m just not privvy to (living as far away as I do, not that one couldn’t follow the online message boards and probably do a good job of keeping up) and some very, very in jokes that I think only the 14 year old red-headed boy in the audience was fully appreciating.

However, how can you not appreciate a song like (visualize Mary Poppins): “Feed the burbs … tuppence a bag … Tepid! Vapid! Musicals pay …” and the hysterical Frankenstein and Monster top hat and tails duet “Puttin’ up with Shit?” I was all ready to buy the CD to take home with me so I could keep laughing at home, but apparently this version of the show hasn’t been pressed yet. Oh well – seeing it live is what it’s all about, right? But the greatest moment of the night was when Gina Kreiezmar came on to do her Liza schtick. (I thought this was especially great because Liza’s new show had only been on for about two weeks, so I was impressed they’d been able to add it in so quickly.) She mugged, she hammed, she went on about how great it was that people were there to see her, she pretended like she cared about the audience at all, she forgot what she was doing, she rambled, she “subtlely” brought up her mom … she went crazy with the guy in the audience she went to address directly, who was Russian and had a name that sounded like Milk Cow. It was really over the top. Anyway, I thought this was a brilliant evening and really hope I have a chance to see Forbidden Broadway again – somehow!

(This review is for a performance that took place on December 25th, 2008. Yes, we went and saw a play on Christmas Day, then we went to the Village and sang showtunes at Marie’s Crisis. It was a grand day!)

Review of “Marguerite – the Musical” – Theatre Royal Haymarket

June 13, 2008

Tonight my uncle, my husband and I went to see Marguerite – the Musical at the Theatre Royal Haymarket. The reasons we went to see this show were simple: it was brand new (world premiere in London less than a month ago) and it was a musical. When it seems like 90% of what we’re seeing on stage in London is now either a revival, an American import, or some limp fish composed of pop songs with a thin through-line, this made it rather a standout. It was also not Gone With the Wind, which for some reason I could never imagine being anything other than cheesy even before the reviews sent it to its early grave (tomorrow, in fact). (Weren’t the Marguerite cast members thanking their lucky stars that they’d put their money on the winning horse!)

It’s actually hard for me to figure out what to say about this show because I didn’t find it thrilling, which is what I’m always hoping for in a musical, but this wasn’t, in fact, what I was expecting. Since the creative cast drew heavily from Les Miserables, a show I’d rank as among the most disappointing things I’ve ever seen on stage, I figured I’d loathe the music, cringe at the singing, and shudder at a banal book. Me, I am a classical musical kind of girl. I consider Oklahoma and Anything Goes the height of the form, and think that Chicago marked the end of the era. The only new musical I’ve really been passionate about is Avenue Q – everything else has mostly just been adequate, or boring, or bad.

As it turns out, the music in Marguerite is actually fairly pleasant. I really listen to the words the cast members are singing, which is especially important in this show, and the lyrics were interesting – they moved the story along without using painfully obvious rhymes to get there. The singers didn’t do that cheesy swooping thing with their voices that I hate, and the ensemble singing (the whole cast but also the trio of Marguerite, Armand and Otto) was quite good. But nothing was interesting enough for me to catch the tune and be humming it after the show, and while Marguerite (Ruthie Henshall) and Armand (Julien Ovenden) had fine voices, I wasn’t wowed by them. (This is not the case for Mr. Ovenden’s biceps, which did have my full attention.)

The story itself is pretty interesting, though not exactly any surprise to someone who’s familiar with La Dame Aux Camellias (or La Traviata, though I felt like this story split pretty far from it). A gorgeous older French woman is being kept by a German general in WWII Paris; she falls for a handsome piano player half her age, a man who makes her feel alive again. (Somehow it was all very Demi and Ashton.) There is, of course, trouble, and the Resistance gets involved. I actually was more interested in the way they wove in the historical fact of people being attacked for being collaborators after the war – and the way many people hid their lack of support for resistance activities afterwards.

I loved the set – it seemed like it was entirely made of glass, a metaphor for “people who live in glass houses,” and the use of projections on the lightly mirrored back walls very effectively created scenes of Paris without being particularly heavy-handed. Armand’s garret was very effectively created with just a bed and a big window, and the transition from scene to scene was seamless. And the costumes were quite good – one of the few times when I wasn’t sitting in my chair complaining about a lack of historical research or inappropriate use of [insert accessory here].

Overall I’d say this is a good musical, nicely set in the jewelbox that is the Theatre Royal Haymarket. For people who like the modern musical style, I think it would be a good night out – it just wasn’t one I was enraptured by, but my uncle and husband thought it was fine (though not outstanding). If you’re debating between this and, say, Jersey Boys or Wicked, I would go for Marguerite in a heartbeat, and even though I personally love Cabaret and Chicago, it would be much better to give a new show a chance. While GWTW deserved its fate, this show deserves much better. That said, will someone please bring Xanadu the Musical to London for me?

(This review is for a performance that took place on Friday, June 13th.)