BWW Reviews: Stages Repertory Theatre's XANADU is Candy-Coated Glee
The 1980 film Xanadu is known for being a notoriously bad movie, but it has cult status and a fan following. In 2007 it was adapted into a stage musical by Douglas Carter Beane, featuring songs from the film written by Jeff Lynne and John Farrar. This summer, Stages Repertory Theatre is presenting the candy-coated confection as their giddy summer musical. The end product couldn't be more fun, frivolous, and everything audiences would want from the campy, fun show.
The story of XANADU is fairly simple. A young chalk muralist, Sonny Malone, in Venice Beach, California draws inspiration from a library book to create a mural of the Greek muses. As chance would have it, the muses in his mural come to life, and Clio, who disguises herself as an Australian named Kira, decides to inspire him to create more art. Her eldest and rather jealous sister, Melpomene, curses her to fall in love with Sonny and effectively complicates the plot.
As is expected with a jukebox musical, the book and its plot are weak and flimsy. However, Douglas Carter Beane makes up for this by stuffing it with as much humor as possible, and having the show make fun of itself and its genre of musical. Lines like "this is like children's theatre for 40-year-old gay people" leaves the audience in stitches. Where there aren't jokes written into the script, the cast and crew give Houston audiences numerous visuals to guffaw over. This production of XANADU unashamedly and successfully puts the comedy into musical comedy.
Furthermore, the exuberant and mirthful direction by Mitchell Greco makes this lighthearted tour de force feel as meaningful as possible. When it comes to shows like this, it is far too easy to make the production feel like a throwaway experience, but Mitchell Greco coached his cast to create characters we care about and enjoy following through their shallow character archs. It is also very obvious that his cast is having a blast playing these delightful personas, who are really caricatures, and that hooks the audience into the production as well. From the opening number to the finale, the energy flows off the stage and into the hearts of the audience, leaving us dancing in our seats, clapping, cheering, and having a truly fabulous time.
Taking on the role made famous by Olivia Newton-John, Holland Vavra does fantastic work as Clio/Kira. With her bubbly personality, sparkling voice, and effervescent stage presence, the audience cannot help but love Holland Vavra. Her smooth vocals make numbers like "I'm Alive," "Magic," "Suddenly," and "Xanadu" ebulliently toe-tapping. She utilizes dulcet and somber tones for a richly melancholic and gorgeous rendition of "Suspended in Time." With picturesque blonde trusses, adorable personality, and looks meant for magazines and film, Holland Vavra's delightful performance is sure to entertain, touch hearts, and maybe even inspire some local drag queens to mimic her look and performance.
Cameron Bautsch, playing Sonny Malone, creates a cheerful character that the audience roots for. With tangible charm, his characterization makes the audience laugh and swoon with ease. The role requires him to stretch his dynamic vocals from his typical lyric baritone range into the tenor stratospheres, but he handles the change well. His voice shimmers on numbers like "Dancin'," "All Over the World," and "The Fall."
As the villainous Melpomene, Tamara Siler is nothing short of fabulous. With a luxurious cackle and a rich alto voice, she makes "Evil Woman" a true highlight of the evening while standing out on numbers like "Strange Magic" and others. As usual, Tamara Siler performs with such charisma and talent that she is joy to watch every time she is on stage, and her interactions with the audience left me rolling in the aisles. Additionally, Julie Simpson Garcia creates an excellent evil henchwoman with her portrayal of Calliope. She is simply hysterical as Melpomene's right hand woman.
The other muses, Mark Ivy as Thalia, Kathryn Porterfield as Euterpe, Amanda Marie Parker as Erato, and Kristopher Stanley Ward as Terpsicore, are brought to charismatic life. With great comedic timing and indefatigable energy, this foursome ensures the show is delightful, especially as they transition through various other roles.
Danny Maguire, a washed-up architect that has lost sight of his dreams, is well played by Thomas Prior. He is in great voice on numbers like "Whenever You're Away From Me" and "Dancin'."
Steven Jones Musical Direction keeps the music jovial and catchy. On the car ride home, I was singing "Magic," "Evil Woman," and "Xanadu." Even as I write the review, I can't shake the songs.
Laura Fine Hawkes Scenic Design is beautiful and versatile. It transitions from location to location easily, and the moveable set pieces are priceless (especially during "Suspended in Time"). Her set is designed to allow for easy maneuverability for cast members on skates, but nothing in this design looks out of place.
Properties Design by Jodi Bobrovsky and Costume Design by Andrew Cloud are full of eye-catching colors and giggle inducing details. Both are brilliant in elevating this campy musical into the realm of unforgettable summer treat.
Bryan Ealey's Lighting Design is full of color and adds a dazzling candy coating on top of the delightful production. Utilizing the sensibilities and color washes associated with pop rock concerts, he fills the intimate stage with warm, splashy colors that keep the audience engaged in and emotionally connected to the musical.
If you don't like to have a good time, if you abhor fun, if you dislike cheerful musicals, if you despise feeling good, then please avoid XANADU. Stages Repertory Theatre's sparkling production of XANADU is unashamedly a summery, theatrical confection. It is candy-coated glee with a side of champagne. It is a relatively family friendly fun night out. It's a fantastic show to share with friends or a date. XANADU is the type of musical that leaves you celebrating the fun, frivolity of life. Give in to the giddiness of the show, give your brain a break, and let your heart take its fill.
Running Time: Approximately 2 hours with one intermission.
XANADU, produced by Stages Repertory Theatre, runs on the Arena Stage at Stages Repertory Theatre, 3201 Allen Parkway, Suite 101, Houston, 77019 now through June 29, 2014. Performances are Wednesdays and Thursdays at 7:30 p.m., Fridays and Saturdays at 8:00 p.m., and Sundays at 3:00 p.m. For tickets and more information, please visit http://stagestheatre.com or call (713) 527-0123.
Photos by Bruce Bennett. Courtesy of Stages Repertory Theatre.
(L-R) Kathryn Porterfield, Mark Ivy, Holland Vavra, Kristopher Stanley Ward.
Cameron Bautsch & Holland Vavra.
Holland Vavra & Company.
Holland Vavra & Cameron Bautsch.
Holland Vavra & Cameron Bautsch.