A movie musical that was a specatacular flop in 1980 gets turned into a fun, wink-at-how-bad-the-film- was Broadway musical that had a respectable New York run. Now, talented director/choreographer Matthew Gardiner spins a little disco ball magic on The Max stage at Signature Theatre in Arlington,Virginia. The costumes designed by Kathleen Geldard are bright and shiny, the four-piece band under the direction of Gabriel Mangiante cranks out the ELO tunes with gusto and the cast roller skates its way through the silly story of the Muse who helps the street artist fulfill his dream of opening a roller disco which was the clear pinnacle of artistic achievement in the artistic desert wasteland that was the early 1980’s.
Xanadu, with the biting wit of librettist Douglas Carter Beane is a slight confection. Featuring the music of ELO’s Jeff Lynne and John Farrar the majority of which appeared in the 1980 film, Xanadu joins a long line of recent “jukebox” musicals that invite you to turn off your brain and just enjoy yourself. Led by the charming Erin Weaver as Clio/Kira, who bravely dons leg warmers, roller skates and an Australian accent, the scant ensemble of nine actors briskly works its way through the story of boy meets muse, muse’s sisters get jealous and plot her doom, muse falls in forbidden love leading to a literal deux ex machina which saves the day. As her Evil Woman sisters, Sherri L. Edelen and Nova Y. Payton charmingly chew the scenery as they comically plot against their sister. Harry A. Winter provides some unexpected depth as Danny Maguire, owner of the deserted nightclub who was burned by his close encounter with the Gods back in the swing of the 1940’s. Charlie Brady as the loveable lug Sonny Malone is just that, a one-note loveable lug. The story may be slight and the characters not very well drawn, but there should be more layers to his performance to allow the audience to understand just what Clio/Kira sees in him.
The rest of the ensemble takes on multiple roles in this brisk 90 minute tale. The highlight of the evening is a trip to Mt. Olympus featuring Greek Gods who resemble those in a certain good version of the Clash of the Titans movies. (We arrive in Olympus courtesy of Pegasus, played here by a My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic glitter wings action figure). Rest assured that neon and mirror balls shall reign supreme and Xanadu will end on a happy roller skating note.
The only problems with this production are minor. The evening I attended the sound system allowed the four member band to overpower the nine actors making their singing muddy and difficult to understand. As I attended an early preview performance this may have been ironed out. The Max space provides an additional challenge, as the audience is tri-sected. With long ramps leading off the front sides of the audience, you are restricted to one entrance/exit to get to your seats. You cannot step over the ramp to make an exit at the end of the show as this would require stepping on the stage and this leads to slow exiting particularly in the main center section of the audience seating.
Xanadu is playing in The Max theater at Signature Theatre in Arlington, Virginia through July 1, 2012. For tickets and other performance information please visit www.signature-theatre.org.