Reston Community Players XanaduBy Bob Ashby • Mar 12th, 2014 • Category: Reviews
Reston Community Players: (Info) (Web)
Reston Community Center, Reston, VA
Through March 29th
1:35 without intermission
$23/$20 Students, Seniors (Plus Fees)
Reviewed March 8th, 2014
Based upon and spoofing a famously inept 1980 movie, the musical Xanadu is an outlandish mashup of 80s pop tunes, disco, roller rink romance, twisted and tortured Greek mythology, and overwhelmingly cheesy theatrical jokes (someone actually starts to physically chew scenery, for example). If nothing else, the Douglas Carter Beane (book) and Jeff Lynne/John Farrar (music and lyrics) creation illustrates why disco died. But the current Reston Community Players (RCP) production, directed by RCP President Joshua Redford, is a lively, highly entertaining one, featuring some excellent performances and award-worthy costume design and choreography.
The top performer in the piece is Russell Silber, a virtuoso of cluelessness as aspiring artist Sonny Malone. A sweeter dork is hard to imagine. Besides, Silber moves — and even skates — fluidly and seemingly effortlessly. We’re not talking here about just executing choreography, but demonstrating admirable body control in every respect, the movement never failing to be in character. Silber also sings pleasantly, in numbers like ” Suddenly,” “Don’t Walk Away,” and “Suspended in Time.”
Opposite Sonny is Clio (Evie Korovesis), a muse — the kind that hangs out at Mt. Olympus — who disguises herself as Kira, an Australian with an accent roughly as authentic as an Outback Steakhouse. A 15 on the 10-point Perkiness Scale, Clio/Kira inspires, assists, and ultimately falls in love with Sonny, the last being a bad career move in Olympian circles where Zeus, apparently having forgotten his swan episode, has rules against that sort of thing. It’s a shame that the score doesn’t give Clio/Kira more material in her lower register; Korovesis has a gorgeous sound in that range. She also handles her pop ballad and uptempo numbers effectively. However, the combination of her accent and high-pitched, somewhat distracting character voice makes her lines hard to understand at times. Her skating is more tentative than that of some other cast members, though a sequence in which she moves about with only one skate on is well-executed and funny.
Xanadu‘s plot, such as it is, concerns Sonny’s efforts to persuade real estate mogul Danny (Richard Durkin) to allow him to convert a disused theater into a roller disco venue. Thirty-five years previously, Danny had also fallen in love with Clio — disguised as an Alabama girl in that case — but had spurned his artistic ambitions in favor of making lots of money. While not a strong singer, Durkin catches the varying moods of his greedy capitalist with a sentimental side. Durkin does even better as Zeus, aided by sound designer Jon Roberts’ excellent reverb effects.
The other versatile denizens of Olympus take fine advantage of their opportunities to steal scenes, above all the giggling, cackling Melpomene (Katie Cheek Ferguson) and Calliope (Emily Jonas), whose duet “Evil Woman” is the show’s musical highlight. Sean Cator, who has a show-stopping tap moment on a desk, and Sam Nystrom, with appearances as a centaur (complete with set-piece equine body) and a flaming Hermes, also stand out. Alexa Yarboro and Megan Hubbell round out the cast, which as a whole delivers the tuneful singing and movement with energy and precision, among other places in the concluding number, “Xanadu.”
And what movement choreographer Chelsea DeRoche serves up. Whether tap or disco or skating, whether using the full cast or a subset, DeRoche matches the music of the various numbers with perfectly complementary action. Given a script and score with limited emotional content, the choreography not only provides visual interest but more than any other aspect of the show keeps audience members involved in the proceedings.
Especially given the multiple roles played by many of the actors, Xanadu calls for frequent costume changes, and Kathy Dunlap’s costume designs are more than up to the challenge. Clio/Kira wears a sort of Ice Capades pink dress throughout, while Calliope’s and Melpomene’s more elegant dresses are in shades of purple. There are white gowns for the Olympians, red church choir robes for the backup singers in one gospel-influenced number, gray tunics for Nystrom and Cator in some scenes, and lovely black “Xanadu” jackets for the final scene (I hope the actors get to keep them). Sonny remains in a yellow sleeveless short and tight denim shorts throughout. In the dance numbers, the easy flow of the women’s skirts facilitates their movement. The color and stylistic variety of the outfits make the show a visual delight.
This is a one-set production, designer Lawrence Gresko providing columns and a pediment suggestive of classical architecture, platforms for music director’s Matt Jeffrey’s four-piece band and for playing areas often used by backup singers in some of the musical numbers, and a wide upstage door that doubles as Sonny’s attempt at mural painting. One of the nicest set moments occurs when a pretty unit representing Pegasus rolls in, upon which Clio/Kira reclines, accompanied by bouncing clouds descending from the fly space. The descending “Xanadu” sign, the letters surrounding by twinkling lights, is a delight.
So what if there ain’t much to it? Xanadu delivers a frothy, fun evening, and for such a show, who could ask for anything more?
Photo by Traci J. Brooks
How do you follow up an epic and engrossing crowd pleaser like Les Miserables? With roller skating, leg warmers, disco balls, ELO and Olivia Newton-John, that’s how. The only thing missing is a dog and a child, and believe me, if I had my bulldog Francis, from Legally Blond I’m sure I could’ve found a way to work him in.
My experience with Xanadu is a little backward from most. I was first introduced to the Broadway musical, and didn’t see the movie until many years later. As with most musicals I like to direct, I was captivated by the soundtrack immediately. There is not a single musical number in this show that I do not enjoy. Every song stays with you, and the entire show leads up to the finale, “Xanadu.” The cast can certainly attest to the fact that during every rehearsal I could be found dancing in my seat to the music. I’ll do my best to control myself during the show though. For this reason alone, I knew I had to direct Xanadu.
The movie was supposed to bring Olivia Newton-John’s film career into the spotlight. Instead, it marked her decline. There is much to love about the movie though. It was filmed when special effects were all the rage, and in Xanadu, they try every possible special effect one can imagine. In the end, I think this was the movie’s downfall. If director Robert Greenwald could have simply told the story, I think it would have been more successful.
The musical does exactly that. Sure, it affectionately pokes fun at the movie, but at its core, Xanadu is a love story. It’s about a love for your art and what happens when you give up your love as Danny does choosing money over art; and what happens when you pursue your love, no matter how daunting the task (climbing to the top of Mt. Olympus) as Sonny does.
Whether you are a fan of the movie or not, I hope you leave the theater humming the iconic songs of Olivia Newton-John, laughing at the absurdity of some of the events that transpire on the stage, fondly remembering the cult movie and the 80’s with a smile on your face and warmth in your heart; the perfect remedy for this long, cold winter.
- Clio (Kira): Evie Korovesis
- Sonny Malone: Russell Silber
- Danny (Zeus): Richard Durkin
- Calliope(Aphrodite): Emily Jonas
- Melpomene (Medusa): Katie Cheek Ferguson
- Euterpe (Siren, Andrews Sister, Thetis): Alexa Yarboro
- Erato (Siren, Andrews Sster, Eros, Hera): Megan Hubbell
- Thalia (Siren, Young Danny, Tubes Singer, Cyclops): Sean Cator
- Terpsicore(Siren, Tubes Singer, Hermes, Centaur): Sam Nystrom
- Conductor: Matt Jeffrey
- Keyboard 1: Matt Jeffrey
- Keyboard 2: J. Michael D’Haviland
- Guitar: Ben Young
- Drums: Manuel Arciniega, Anders Eliasson (3/21)
- Director: Joshua Redford
- Music Director: Matt Jeffrey
- Co-Produced: Daryl Hoffman and Carol Watson
- Stage Manager: Mary Ann Hall
- Assistant Stage Manager: Laura Baughman
- Choreography: Chelsea DeRouche
- Skate Instructor: Katie McManus
- Technical Director: Skip Larson
- Set Design/Master Carpenter: Lawrence Gresko
- Set Construction: Lawrence Gresko, Greg Steele, Skip Larson, Alen Taylor, Matthew Wise, Ian Brown, Cameron Kelly, Mike Verdon, Tom Flatt, Tim Skjerseth, Joshua Redford
- Set Painting: Bea Morse, Cathy Rieder, Sabrina Begley, Laurie Stieger, Joshua Redford
- Running Crew Chief: Tigan Harrison
- Head Flyman: Laura Baughman
- Stagehands: Kyle Dannahey, Michael Kwan, Mathew Wise, Jason Willet, Emily Willet, Eric Hughes
- Properties Designer: Mary Jo Ford
- Performance Properties: Stage Hands
- Set Decoration: Bea Morse
- Lighting Design: Ken and Patti Crowley
- Master Electricians: Mike O’Connor, Alex Lee
- Spotlight Operators: Katherine O’Connor, Michael Kwan
- Sound Design: Jon Roberts
- Sound Operators: Vinnie Prabhu, Rich Bird
- Special Effects/Projection Design: Jon Roberts
- Costume Design: Kathy Dunlap
- Hair Design: Anna Michelle Jackson
- Makeup Design: Suzanne Thomas, Anna Michelle Jackson
- Photography: Traci J. Brooks
- House Management: Darryl Hoffman
- Showbill Production: Sue Pinkman, Ginger Kohles
Disclaimer: Reston Community Players provided two complimentary media tickets to ShowBizRadio for this review. RCP also purchased advertising on the ShowBizRadio web site, which did not influence this review.
This article can be linked to as: http://washingtondc.showbizradio.com/goto/10208.
Bob Ashby has been an active participant in the Washington-area community theater scene since his arrival in town in 1975.