Signature Theatre XanaduBy Genie Baskir • May 24th, 2012 • Category: Reviews
Signature Theatre, Arlington, VA
Through July 1st
1:30 without intermission
Reviewed May 20th, 2012
Omigod!!! So Shrewish Princesses the Elder and the Younger are in the MAX Theatre at Signature Theatre waiting for Xanadu to start and some hideous, fat, crazy woman stands up in her chair dancing and screeching “Video Killed The Radio Star.” She was a maniac. The police had to carry her out of the theatre in restraints. Why do people do these crazy things in public? It’s very disturbing to the other patrons and the show was almost starting and she did this in front of God and everyone.
The theatre declined to press charges and actually said I could go back into the show if I promised to comport myself properly in the theatre and to leave the other patrons alone. I’m sorry; I was just so enchanted with the set and the scenic design that I was transported in my mind back to my slender juvenescence, awaiting the fulfillment of the promises of my youth. But a disappointing lifetime of grievance and failure faded into memorial mist when the cast came on to sing “I’m Alive.”
“The past is never where you think you left it.” Katherine Anne Porter
Xanadu is gossamer fluff and gifts us with a fluffy swing down the proverbial memory roller lane. The dawn of the 1980’s held such promise after the darkness of the ’70’s. Vietnam was over and the shock of the consequent atrocities of Southeast Asia was replaced with the hope that Egyptian President Anwar Sadat inspired when he decided to visit Israel, settle differences and try to make nice. Margaret Thatcher was bringing the United Kingdom out of the malaise that inspired the punk rock movement. Disco music was out of fashion and rockabilly was enjoying a revival via The Stray Cats, Shakin’ Stevens and Adam Ant. Ronald Reagan was Ronald Reagan and Olivia-Newton John was America’s Sweetheart…. until she made a legendarily atrocious film that constructively finished her movie career.
In 1980 Newton-John starred in that critical and popular failure of a film called “Xanadu.” The film itself was an adaptation of other adaptations of other adaptations going back to 1936 and Harry Segall’s Heaven Can Wait. The stage production of Xanadu lampoons itself when Danny Maguire (Harry A. Winter) talks about making a quick stage show adaptation of a stinkeroo film. Winter is very sweet in this show and plays his bad guy role in a tongue in cheek manner making us all in on the joke. However Xanadu the stage musical is not a quickie, cheapie adaptation; Douglas Carter Beane wrote the book for the stage production and he took his classical Greek mythology lightly, but affectionately, in refashioning the story. That doesn’t make the story any more credible; but it doesn’t take us for fools either as we suspend our disbelief in the fantasy at hand. It’s interesting to see this story as not of the ages because of the time and locale; were these ancient Greeks roller skating around the Theatre at Epidauros the story would be eternal.
The raison d’etre of Xanadu is in its presentation and Director/Choreographer Matthew Gardiner doesn’t let us down. Misha Kachman’s scenic design is sensational. Just sitting and waiting for the show to begin and looking at the lights and the palm trees and the stage, which is really a roller rink, left me anticipating a great evening before our Valley Boy, Sonny Malone (Charlie Brady), appeared on stage. Sonny is the beautiful, but dumb, boy and Brady played Sonny seriously, but with a twinkle in his eye.
Zeus (Harry A. Winter) may be the king of the Gods, but he’s no Ward Cleaver when it comes to parenting. If Tevye is kvetching about having five daughters, Zeus is apoplectic with nine of them. These girls are the Muses and daddy is playing favorites. Melpomene (Nova Y. Payton) is the oldest of the Muses but she is passed over for Chief Muse by Zeus in favor of Clio (Erin Weaver) who does not have enough to do. That’s why she’s the Muse of History. She just happens to be patrolling Venice, California in search of someone to inspire when she finds Sonny ready to throw himself off the pier because his sidewalk chalk drawing of the Muses is not as perfect as he wants it to be. The Muses had been brought to life when Sonny abandoned the drawing to go kill himself. (Sonny is dingbattier than we first thought.) Clio decides that she will take the form of an Australian roller skater named Kira and inspire Sonny because this is her job. The job comes with some caveats, however. Clio may not create any art herself….and she cannot fall in love. Now how did we know that? Clio commits to helping Sonny to open an art gallery and roller disco that will be called Xanadu and they go to convince the heartless owner of an abandoned building to give the building to them so they can build Xanadu.
Melpomene seizes the opportunity to strike at Clio because Zeus skipped over her in favor of Clio and enlists Calliope (Sherri L. Edelin) to help her cast a spell on Clio so that she creates art and falls in love with Sonny. We knew that too. A classic story is one that’s just too familiar. The penalties for Clio’s indiscretions will be death if Zeus finds out and Melpomene and Calliope will make darn sure that Zeus finds out. It figures that Melpomene is the Muse of Tragedy.
Of course, Zeus finds out that Clio broke the rules and, just like Tevye, makes an exception for her. Melpomene can’t win. Clio may live and stay with the man she loves if she becomes mortal and gives up her powers. One Muse down, eight to go. There are no spoilers here; we all know this story too well. The hard-hearted Danny Maguire softens up and Xanadu gets built and in between there is sensational dancing, great singing, great music and roller skating like you can’t believe!
The Muses had tremendous stage presence. The vocals were marvelous and the roller skating made us giddy. Payton is a separate presence completely. She owns her stages and Edelin was a grand sidekick to her while Weaver is a force of nature. She took on a great Australian dialect and skated rings around everyone and everything. She is a powerful singer and she and Brady had good chemistry. Since the show lampoons itself there is no justice in assailing the story…it is deliberately simple and serves as the vehicle for great songs, incomparable dancing and the amazing roller skating. The legs of archetypal, mythological scripture are there; only the speech patterns remove the lessons from antiquity and drop them on to the West Coast in a happy and pleasing figment of the imagination. There is no more pretense to anything here but blithe fun.
The production was tight; scene transitions were seamless. The lighting was magic and when all of the disco balls came down and the theatre was lit up with all of the reflections of the balls and the music was playing and everyone was singing, your reviewer thought she had died and gone to Henri Bendel’s for eternity. In fact the costumes (Kathleen Geldard) could have come from Bendel’s in its heyday. They were beautiful, especially Melpomene’s dress in the closing number. Oh…be still my heart.
Mark Chandler, Jamie Eacker, Kellee Knighten Hough, and Nicholas Vaughan were all gorgeous and fabulous and must be mentioned because they all have mothers. The music under the direction of Gabriel Mangiante was pulsating and addictive. The memories this show brings to some don’t preclude the younger set from totally getting down with this show. Signature Theatre proves itself again with creative and electrifying staging of a difficult show; assembling all of the components into a great night’s entertainment.
Photos by Scott Suchman
- Clio/Kira: Erin Weaver
- Sonny Malone: Charlie Brady
- Danny Maguire/Zeus: Harry A. Winter
- Calliope: Sherri L. Edelin
- Melpomene: Nova Y. Payton
- Thalia: Mark Chandler
- Euterpe: Jamie Eacker
- Erato: Kellee Knighten Hough
- Terpsichore: Nickolas Vaughan
- Director/ Choreographer: Matthew Gardiner
- Production Stage Manager: Julie Meyer
- Music Director: Gabriel Mangiante
- Lighting Design: Chris Lee
- Sound Design: Matt Rowe
- Costume Design: Kathleen Geldard
- Skate Supervisor: Gregory Vander Ploeg
Disclaimer: Signature Theatre provided two complimentary media tickets to ShowBizRadio for this review.
This article can be linked to as: http://washingtondc.showbizradio.com/goto/8109.
Genie Baskir is a theatrical producer. She worked in radio production and direction for many years and gravitated to theatre when family members became involved with the stage.