BWW Review: Georgetown Palace Has Got a 'Strange Magic' in XANADU
In the grand tradition of musical parody, Georgetown Palace brings us the lighthearted, all-in-good-jest musical, XANADU. Based on the 1980 cult classic film of the same name, which was, in turn, inspired by the 1947 Rita Hayworth film Down to Earth, the stage musical is influenced not only by the 1980 Xanadu film, but also by the 1981 fantasy film Clash of the Titans. It focuses more on the Greek mythology plot lines, and parodies the movie. The score retains the hits from the film and also includes new arrangements by Eric Stern of "I'm Alive," "Magic," "Suddenly," and "Dancin'," as well as interpolating two classic Electric Light Orchestra songs, "Strange Magic" and "Evil Woman" plus "Have You Never Been Mellow."
First off, I must make a confession. In all honesty, this may very well be the only way that I could legitimately enjoy anything at all by Olivia Newton-John. (A childhood filled with unfortunate memories of "Let's Get Physical" and "Make a Move On Me" shaped my distaste for the late 70's/pre-New Wave 80's.) Moreover, I wasn't a fan of the film, and I always felt sort of sorry for my favorite film legend Gene Kelly for ever having gotten involved with the thing. (I have a sneaking suspicion that he probably did, too.) But, much like The Wedding Singer, this musical aims to poke a bit of fun at its own time period and music genre. And with a bit of a Greek twist, it is complete with those songs by Olivia that we all were repeatedly subjected to as we slathered on our strawberry lip-gloss and over-sprayed our bangs until they could literally stand up on their own.
Sara Burke reprises her role of the leader of the Muses, Clio (Kira), a role that she had previously performed at ZACH Theatre. Ms. Burke takes an over-the-top, campy approach, which I would imagine one must do with such a role, which is specifically designed as parody. Most of the time, Ms. Burke shines in her role, but her Australian dialect can become just a bit ambiguous and hard to understand in various scenes. There were also moments in which I had wished that Burke had a bit more of a high-placed vocal belt and the particular forward-placed style that is needed for this specific flavor of 80's pop music, as Olivia Newton-John had with her Signature Sound. But on musical numbers such as "Magic," her voice is truly lovely. Burke also has a solid understanding of campy delivery; therefore many moments within the production are punctuated with overdone dialect or Saturday-Night-Live-esque techniques.
Playing the role of the handsome and "very 1980's" struggling artist Sonny Malone, Kyle Kirchhoff has truly wonderful moments. Though it is apparent that he is vocally thin, he's a very strong actor, and line delivery is perfectly timed, making some of his interactions absolutely hilarious. Each time he would sheepishly deliver the line, "I don't know what that is" in response to a line that either involved mention of "Vaudeville" or "Errol Flynn", I'd almost do a spit-take with my wine. He has good chemistry with his co-stars, and certainly his finest scene with Burke is within the musical number "Suddenly," despite their vocal differences.
Palace favorite Scott Shipman plays very-successful-businessman-ex-clarinet-player-turned-real-estate-mogul Danny Maguire. Even though Shipman is far younger than his character, his stately, pseudo-operatic presence suits the role of Danny. In the film, this role was played by my very favorite film legend, Gene Kelly, so it would follow that an actor with Shipman's vocal style, color and "legit" delivery are a perfect fit, even though contemporary musical theatre would normally call for a very different style. Even Shipman's light vibrato within his spoken lines add to the comedic delivery of the role. I still fondly remember the moment Danny casually throws out the line, "I still don't know what a nickel bag is" in a manner reminiscent of Bogart.
In the role of Melpomene, the Muse of Tragedy, Gazelle Garcia has very strong comedic moments, and though she may be the only true "belter" in this cast, she unfortunately lacks vocal control. At times this would even distract from her normally well-placed comedic timing, as in the beginning of the musical number "Strange Magic." This affected her delivery of the song we all wait for, "Evil Woman," as well. Playing her side-kick, in the role of Calliope, Kelsey Kimble was well-suited, but she was also a bit understated vocally.
Including the leading roles, this entire cast has a grand total of nine performers, and some of the best lines are given to Clio's sister muses. Matt Burnett and Leslie Hethcox playing the roles of Muses Terpsicore and Thalia, respectively, repeatedly stole laughs and they won some of the largest audience reactions of the evening. As a whole, the entire cast seemed to struggle with harmonies on various musical numbers such as "Don't Walk Away," "All Over the World," and "Dancin'," but incidentally, this was the funniest ensemble number of the evening.
Though Burke's choreography is strongly reminiscent of the original Broadway production (as is the staging), this cast is a joy to watch. The set design by Mary Ellen Butler is extremely minimal, almost to the point of XANADU feeling like a concert-version style musical; with only a few set pieces and projections, the focus is certainly on performers and not much else. As with many Palace productions, projections were used, but unfortunately the detail of these get quite washed-out by the lighting design.
Because this show was scheduled in the dreaded post-holiday slot in the Palace's season, audience numbers have suffered, which is possibly also due to the small cast size, but traditionally, post-holiday shows have always gotten "the short end of the stick." This is unfortunate; because the show itself is not only quite funny, but as we all know in the business, cast energy needs audience to thrive. For Valentine's Weekend, The Palace is having a special promotion of $5 off per ticket order if the code XANADU5 is entered at checkout online. With only one weekend left, a ticket to this campy story of 80's love would indeed make a novel gift for your Valentine.
XANADU will be playing now through Sunday, February 14th at The Georgetown Palace, 810 S Austin Ave, Georgetown, TX 78626. Performances are each weekend, January 15 - February 14, 2016 at 7:30 pm on Fridays and Saturdays, and on Sundays at 2pm. Tickets are $11-$28. For tickets and information, please visit www.GeorgetownPalace.com.