BWW Reviews: Young Performers Shine in TexARTS Production of XANADU
Xanadu holds a special place in my heart. Not the movie, of course. It would be easier to find Big Foot than it would be to find someone who enjoyed the terrible 1980 movie musical. But the stage version is a whole other matter. The show, which opened on Broadway in 2007, was nominated for 4 Tony Awards, including Best Musical.
But my personal affection towards Xanadu has nothing to do with the Broadway production. My affinity towards the zany, feel-good show about a Greek Muse who inspires a dopey young man to open a roller disco nightclub stems from the 2012 production staged at Austin's Zach Theatre. The show was the first I ever reviewed for BroadwayWorld. It's very special to me, and that means the young performers at TexARTS had some big roller skates to fill. I'm happy to report that they completely blew me away.
The production may feature performers ranging in age from 13 to 18, but the entire cast is polished and poised well beyond their years. Kiira Schmidt's jubilant and vibrant choreography would challenge more experienced performers, but the young cast is more than up to the task, and they handle the vocal demands of the pop score with ease.
13 year old Gracee Street shines as Kira, the aforementioned Greek Muse. Full of energy and cute as a button, Street reduced me to a giggling mess with her incredible comedic timing and perfectly over-exaggerated Australian accent (the show takes many a jab at Olivia Newton-John's abysmal performance in the film, and even her Aussie heritage is lampooned). Kaitlin Street and Hayley Trittin both show off their comedic talents as Kira's evil sisters, Melpomene and Calliope. Their big number, "Evil Woman," is a standout that showcases their personalities, powerful voices, and impressive dance moves. Michael Wheeler is exceptional as Sonny, the dim-witted Venice Beach artist. He gives the character a goofy, infectious charm. Like all the performers around him, Wheeler has a professionalism seldom seen from performers his age.
Productions by educational theater programs are usually not high on the average theatergoer's list of must-sees, and quite frankly the quality of productions from youth theater organizations is typically not that high, either. However, TexARTS isn't your standard educational theater program. This isn't an organization that subscribes to the "if their kids are in it, the parents will love it anyway" mentality. It's evident in their current production of Xanadu that TexARTS strives to develop young performers while entertaining their audience. That's exactly what they accomplish, and in roller skates no less.
Note: Due to double casting, cast members at future performances may differ from cast members mentioned above.
Running time: 1 hour and 50 minutes, including one 15 minute intermission.
XANADU plays TexARTS' Kam and James Morris Theatre at 2300 Lohman's Spur, Austin 78734 now thru Sunday, May 18th. Performances are Saturday May 17th and Sunday May 18th at 1pm and 6pm. Tickets are $15. For tickets and information, visit www.tex-arts.org.