Xanadu, the first Broadway musical of the year, is…well, silly. Silly, daffy, and with a generous helping of camp, Xanadu seems like it would be more at home at the New York Fringe Festival or some Off-Broadway theatre in the Village. However, here it is, ensconced at the tiny Helen Hayes Theater providing a jolt of lovable lunacy for Broadway theatergoers.
Based on the 1980 movie flop of the same name, Xanadu tells the story of nine sisterly Greek muses (actually seven) 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 is now an Australian named Kira (remember the movie starred Australian Olivia Newton-John), the band of merry conspirators help Sonny fulfill his artistic vision by opening a roller disco. Yes, a roller disco. Remember, this is 1980. Throw in some evil shenanigans by two of the sisterly muses, the collusion of an aged real estate mogul and, of course, the forbidden love between Sonny and Kira, and you have the whole whacked out scenario.
Xanadu works, most of the time, due to its infectious joyfulness typified by the off-the-wall nuttiness in the opening number, “I’m Alive.” The show teeters 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 songs, especially for baby boomers like me, are a sheer delight. 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 Kerry Butler as Kira. Butler, who came to prominence as the ditsy Penny Pingleton in the original cast of “Hairspray”, demonstrates her comic talents once again, as she sings and skates through Douglas Carter Beane’s stripped down and breezy book. Mary Testa and Jackie Hoffman, two theatrical veterans, are superb as the oft-kilter, maniacal muses plotting Kira’s demise. Cheyenne Jackson, who normally plays the creatively challenged artist, Sonny, was out of the show the night I went and Curtis Holbrook, his stand-in, was only serviceable at best. Tony Roberts, still pounding the boards, adds a bit of stability, just a bit, to the musical’s hijinks.
Director Christopher Ashley keeps the pulsating action flowing so effortlessly that the one and one-half hours of intermission less daftness breezily and carelessly flies by.
Xanadu, something out of the ordinary from your more traditional Broadway musical. Not necessarily a production for the unadventurous, but a satisfying dollop of sustained and entertaining silliness.