Theatre Review: ‘Xanadu’ at Actor’s Express
By Manning Harris
“Xanadu,” Actor’s Express’ season closer, is completely wacky, delightfully preposterous, and totally irresistible.
They say that youth must be served; but it’s the power, beauty, and joy of youth that has not only bookended but rescued the Express’ season from dire financial straits, opening with the stunning “Spring Awakening” and now “Xanadu,” running through June 16. Of course, angels (donors) have helped, too. Their aid has been justified.
Based on the 1980 Olivia Newton-John film, which pretty much tanked at the box office but nevertheless developed a cult following, the musical play opened on Broadway in 2007 and ran for a respectable 500 performances. I caught the show there and had a lot of fun. Even the staid New Yorker critic said it was “probably the most fun you’ll have on Broadway this season.”
Fun is the raison d’être of “Xanadu.” You can huff and puff all you want that the show is vacuous and silly, but the Greeks knew better: 2,400 years ago the comic dramatist Aristophanes delighted his Athenian audiences with “The Birds” and “The Frogs”; and these were the same audiences that thrilled to “Oedipus” and “Medea.”
The Greek reference is not an accident. In “Xanadu” (brace yourself now) the Greek muse Clio (Lindsey Lamb Archer) descends from Mount Olympus to Venice Beach, CA on a mission to inspire a struggling artist named Sonny Malone (Jordan Craig) to create a fabulous roller disco (combining all the arts and “something athletic,” don’t you see).
But Clio, disguised as an Australian rollergirl named Kira, soon falls for the innocent, hunky Sonny; and this is trouble, for love is forbidden between goddesses and mortals. And Clio/Kira’s father is Zeus himself (Al Stilo, who also plays real estate mogul Danny Maguire). Clio’s extremely jealous sisters, Calliope and Melpomene (Jill Hames and Marci Millard—both hilarious) plot against her in every way possible.
Incidentally, the name “Xanadu” is derived from Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s haunting, unfinished poem “Kubla Khan,” which opens “In Xanadu did Kubla Khan a stately pleasure dome decree.” Well, our pleasure dome is of course Sonny’s roller disco. Will it be financed (Sonny’s broke) and built? Can Sonny and Kira have a real romance? You’ll have to see the show…
Director Sherri D. Sutton knows that for a show like “Xanadu” to fly, you must have appealing, talented actors; casting is everything, and here is where she triumphs. Jordan Craig is a perfect Sonny, projecting innocence, earnestness, and enormous likability—plus he’s a fine singer. Ms. Archer’s Kira is beautiful, vulnerable (remember, she’s risking eternal banishment to the underworld!), and touching. The entire ensemble is entirely admirable: Greg Bosworth (so memorable in “Spring Awakening”), Al Stilo, Mary Nye Bennett, Christen C. Orr, and Craig Waldrip.
The book is by Douglas Carter Beane; music and lyrics by Jeff Lynne and John Farrar. You’ll know some of the songs: “I’m Alive,” “Magic,” “Don’t Walk Away,” “Have You Never Been Mellow.”
The set (Philip Male) and costumes (Elizabeth Rasmusson) are colorful but not stellar. Ricardo Aponte’s choreography works well, especially on the not gigantic stage.
“Xanadu,” which I’m told is starting to sell out, doesn’t take itself seriously for a moment, and therein lies its triumph. For me it’s better cast (especially Sonny and Kira) than the Broadway version. I wouldn’t miss it.
For tickets and information, visit www.actorsexpress.com.