Our second show was a last minute one. Owen suggested the day we arrived that we could see if XANADU was at the TKTS booth. It wasn't but I went online and found 2 stalls seats for Saturday matinee. I had heard it was a fun show but I wasn't sure if I would like it or not, as a knowing production can sometimes be irksome. It was GREAT! Within minutes of the lights going down I was laughing and I didn't stop for it's 90 minutes playing time.
God knows it's easy to laugh at the film - it's clueless, empty plot with a hopeless leading man and heady whiff of naff make it one of the clutch of musicals - CAN'T STOP THE MUSIC, THE JAZZ SINGER, PENNIES FROM HEAVEN and yes even FAME - that made the musical such a busted flush for years. So when word got out that XANADU was skating onto the Helen Hayes Theater stage there was total bafflement... had the screen to stage idea sunk THAT low?
What had not been taken into the equation was gay playwright Douglas Carter Beene who has taken the initial plot - street artist is helped by a muse of the arts to fulfill his dream of opening a roller-disco! - and treated it with the ridicule it deserves. No opportunity is passed up to lampoon the plot and the book also has a post-modern spin where the characters are in on the joke. However even when this attitude is applied within the songs it is done with such affection that it's never distancing. There are also nice little touches like the CHICAGO rip-off seen above.
The score is of course one of the reasons for the show's success: "Evil Woman", "All Over The World", "Suddenly", "Strange Magic", "Don't Walk Away" and of course XANADU are all socked over the footlights and Jeff Lynne's slightly theatrical pop sensibility finds it's perfect setting. The inevitable encore 'mega-mix' for once had me clapping and singing along with gusto. The Greek amphitheatre set involves a few lucky punters who get to sit on the stage but are not really utilised, the design is fairly simple - until the finale when every shape and size of glitterball appear from the flies.... it was so wild!
The main success for the show is the cast who give it their all. Kerry Butler was a real delight as Clio the muse who in human form changes her name to Kyra, wears legwarmers and rollerskates - oh and sports the worse Austryliene accent eevah. When she sings she channels Olivia Newton-John's breathy vocals but has a neat voice too. I liked her version of "Suspended In Time" - the fact she sang it sitting side-saddle on a floating large Pegasus was all the more fun.
She was matched every skate of the way by Cheyenne Jackson as the good-looking but thick-as-two-tube socks Sonny. He looks every inch the Californian beach dude - and how nice to have a dumb leading-man. He never overplays this though and so you laugh with him rather than at him. He also has a nice voice and a great stage chemistry with Butler. Now I must admit "Suddenly" has always been a bit of a secret pleasure of mine - are you reading this Michael Wilson? - and they did a great version of it with him 'magically' acquiring some skates while in his phone box. All this talent and a happily 'out' actor too!
Clio is forbidden by Zeus to use her own talents to help the mortal and falling in love with one will see her put to death. Her jealous sisters Melpomene and Calliope see to it that she does both these and they are played by the scene-stealing twosome of Mary Testa and Jackie Hoffman. They are a riot with some of the best lines in the show - "This is like children's theatre for 40-year-old gay people"! One tall and buxom the other small and thin - they are like Disney cartoon villains come to life and their duet of "Evil Woman" is a real hoot.
The other main part is played by Tony Roberts, best known here for his performances in early Woody Allen films up to ANNIE HALL. He plays the role Gene Kelly played in the film as the property magnate who owns the theatre that Sonny wants to use as his roller-disco. It turns out he designed and built the building in the 1940s when he was inspired to by a mysterious blonde girl who vanished when he eventually doubted his vision. Now who could she have been....? Roberts gave a charming performance with a great line in laconic asides. He also appeared as Zeus in Clio's trial scene and warns her that it is 1980 - the year when the arts died on earth and that in the future Broadway would be populated by jukebox musicals and shows based on third-rate movies!
The remaining four members of the cast were all given moments to shine - a special mention to very tall, very black, very camp Andre Ward as a bitchy Hermes "Bitch I don't know your life" and a strutting centaur with platform hooves!
Owen and I left the theatre and flew on invisible skates to Virgin for the cast recording cd which has been on heavy rotation ever since. Weighing up the pros and cons of the 5 productions we saw I have to say XANADU was my favourite for sheer enjoyment. A London transfer is supposedly on the cards so fingers crossed!