While in New York in April 2008, Owen and I saw the stage musical XANADU at the Helen Hayes Theater. We got last minute tickets the night before online but really had no idea what we were going to see.... but it was fabulous! Played with no interval, XANADU blasted off the stage with laughs, campness, great songs, a delightful cast and more mirror-balls than you could shake a stick at.
Seven years later XANADU has finally made an appearance in London, I was beginning to give up hope! Shite jukebox and/or screen-to-stage adaptations have come and gone but no XANADU but now it's here at the Southwark Playhouse, which is quickly becoming the home for risky Broadway musicals IN THE HEIGHTS, GRAND HOTEL, CARRIE, TITANIC and the coming soon GREY GARDENS.
I had been very nervous about the show. I enjoyed it so much on Broadway - and the cast recording was one of the albums that kept me going through the dark days of working in Borehamwood - so was very worried that the production would not deliver the goods. But luckily, apart from some slightly clunky playing, the production worked it's pink and glittery magic.
Writer Douglas Carter Beane was in the audience and he must have been blown away by the rapturous reception it received - it was also nice to see GREY GARDENS star Jenna Russell clapping away like mad in the back row.
Beane's XANADU is a delirious take on the woeful 1980 film of the same name which finished Olivia Newton-John's screen career and was the reason that the Hollywood Razzies were created to honour it's sheer rubbishness. But looking back can be a good thing and Beane has great delight in skewering the play's inane plot, the 1980s and the whole meta musical thing works wonderfully. I think this is becomes Beane's script is very generous of spirit and he realises that the enemy is not the dumb little film but the crassness of the 1980s and the absurdities of the current Broadway musical scene.
Beane has hung onto the show's daft plot - Sonny a street artist is visited by Clio, one of Zeus' artistic muses, who decides to make him achieve his goal of opening a roller disco (!) while realising she is in danger of falling in love with a mortal.
What drives the show along too is the wonderful score of Electric Light Orchestra and John Farrar songs - although the film was a massive flop, it's soundtrack album was a huge hit and the thumping pop-disco hits of ELO and the winsome pop songs written by Farrar for Newton-John combine to get you clapping and singing along!
Director Paul Warwick Griffin scoots the action along with great glee although an unnecessary interval does break the mood, Morgan Large's set slowly unfolds during the show to culminate in the ultimate disco - although sadly there is no room for the Mirror-Balls From Heaven which appeared from nowhere on Broadway. Nathan M Wright's choreography whizzes and whirls the actors around the set on their roller skates and Ben Cracknell's lighting dazzled.
Still in previews, a couple of the cast were too strident and lost out on laughs because of it - Lizzy Connolly as Caliope, one of Clio's bad sisters, squawked away while pushing too hard for laughs and Samuel Edwards has not yet found the lack of guile that Cheyenne Jackson brought so effortlessly to the role. There's an important difference between laughing at a character's stupidity and laughing with it.
No such problems with Alison Jiear who brings all her experience to make Melpomene, the baddest sister of them all, a huge success and Carly Anderson is a sheer delight as Clio, she sings like a dream and has a nice comic style. The other performers all have their moments to shine and have a real happy ensemble vibe.
XANADU is playing at Southwark Playhouse until 21st November - get your skates on and enjoy one of the most joyous shows in town!