Saturday, July 11, 2015

Review of "Xanadu"

Xanadu, the last offering of the Connecticut Repertory Theater’s summer series, is…well, silly. Silly, daffy, and with a generous helping of camp.  The musical provides a jolt of lovable lunacy for theatergoers.  It can teeter on the verge of plunging down the abyss of excess but, through the strength of its nostalgic score and winning performances, rights itself time and time again.

The cast of XANADU, the musical comedy by Douglas Carter Beane,
with music and lyrics by Jeff Lynne and John Farrar. 
Photo by Gerry Goodstein.

Based on the 1980 movie flop of the same name, Xanadu tells the story of seven sisterly Greek Muses who appear in Venice Beach, California to save and inspire the soul of a failed artist named Sonny. Led by the youngest of the group, Clio, who in her humanly form transforms into an Australian named Kira (the movie starred Australian Olivia Newton-John), the band of merry conspirators help Sonny fulfill his artistic vision by opening a multi-media performance space that would also include a roller disco. Yes, a roller disco. With a mirrored disco ball.  Remember, this is 1980. Throw in some evil shenanigans by two of the sisterly Muses, the collusion of an aged real estate mogul who, down deep, wants to just make music and, of course, the forbidden love between Sonny and Kira, and you have the whole whacked out scenario.

Book writer Douglas Carter Beane has crafted a lighthearted book based on the aforementioned film.  His goal is nothing short of giving the audience an off-the-wall spectacle that puts a smile on everyone’s faces.  He succeeds completely.

Xanadu works, most of the time, due to its infectious exuberance typified by the off-the-wall nuttiness in the opening number, “I’m Alive.”  The songs, especially for baby boomers like myself, are a sheer joy to hear. There is a generous helping of Electric Light Orchestra hits—“Evil Woman,” “Strange Magic,” and “All Over The World” along with soft rock standards by Olivia Newton-John such as “Magic,” “Have You Ever Been Mellow,” and the title song, “Xanadu.” They are delivered by an engaging cast headed by Amandina Altomare as Kira. Altomare started out giving an uneven performance, with a shaky singing voice, but by the end of the show was beaming with confidence and power. Luke Hamilton’s portrayal of Sonny, the artist who requires a Muse’s inspiration, was serviceable at best.
Steve Hayes (Calliope/Aphrodite) and Ariana Shore (Melpomene/Medusa)
are evil women in XANADU.  Photo by Gerry Goodstein.

The show really belongs to the supporting cast led by Steve Hayes and Ariana Shore as the oft-kilter, maniacal muses plotting Kira’s demise. They are superb with perfect comic timing that always give a spark to the production.  Likewise, Dirk Lumbard’s performance as the brusque, ill-tempered Danny enlivens his scenes with some marvelous tap dancing routines.  The Muses, whether they are performing as an ensemble or individually, are a gleeful delight.

Director Vincent Cardinal keeps the pulsating action flowing so effortlessly that the one and one-half hours of intermission less daftness breezily and carelessly flies by. He allows the actors room for playfulness, which Steve Hayes gladly accepts.  Choreographer Cassie Abate adds a nice mix of disco inflected moves for the actors.  Costume Designer Lisa Loen deserves a special note for her whimsical creations—Centaur and Cyclops—that appear towards the end of the production.

Xanadu, something out of the ordinary from your more traditional Broadway musical, dispensing a satisfying dollop of sustained and entertaining silliness.  Now through July 19th at the Connecticut Repertory Theater in Storrs.

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