BWW Reviews: XANADU at Beck Center Turns Bad Script Into Funky Fun

So there is no question about the praises that appear in this review: XANADU is a bad script, with an uneven musical score, and few redeeming qualities. In spite of this, the Beck Center's production is mostly funky fun. There are three reasons for this: Martin Céspedes's choreography, Scott Spence's awareness that playing the material as a comic strip rather than a "for real" piece of musical theatre was necessary, and some over the top performances.

Xanadu's so-called storyline centers on Sonny, an artist who becomes frustrated because of the low quality of his mural of the Greek Muses. His depression leads to thoughts of suicide.  But, on Mount Olympus, Clio, Zeus's youngest daughter, decides to come to Venice Beach, California, and save him from himself. She, along with her seven sisters, descend and help Sonny combine the arts with something athletic, roller skating. Forbidden from appear as a Muse, Clio changes her name to Kira, wears roller skates and leg warmers (an important plot device) and speaks in an Australian accent. In the process, Clio/Kira falls in love with Sonny, and problems from above are created, as her jealous sisters encourage the forbidden love, potentially causing Clio to be banished into the underworld (that's where you and I live). 

Honest, that's the story. Could I make up such ridiculousness?

Everything about XANADU is strange. The musical score, rather than being written by a librettist and a composer, as is the norm, is a series of songs, some written by Jeff Lynne, others by John Farrar, but none co-conceived. The play is based on a flop movie which was originally inspired by two other less than world shaking flicks, DOWN TO EARTH and its sequel HEAVEN CAN WAIT.  Both are based on a rather obscure poem, A Vision in a Dream and refers to a Chinese province where, in the rhyme, Kubla Khan established his pleasure garden. 

Again, could I make this stuff up?

The movie, which lost a great deal of money for its producers, has become a cult favorite, making it a ROCKY HORROR SHOW-type experience, where viewers, often shod in roller skates, dress the roles and act scenes at midnight showings.

The musical, which opened on Broadway in 2007, ran for over 500 performances, receiving the Outer Critics Circle Award and Drama Desk Award for Best Musical. This, in spite of the fact that it received mostly marginal reviews. A tour of the show appeared in Cleveland in 2010 to basically negative reaction. 

Songs from the show include such modern classics as All Over the World, I'm Alive, Have You Never Been Mellow, and Magic.

Director Scott Spencer, realizing that he was not directing the likes of WEST SIDE STORY or CHORUS LINE, takes on the staging with a joyful mockery, bridging tongue in cheek comedy with farcical overtones.

Martin Céspedes picks up Spencer's attitude and creates choreography that is a mélange of styles. Among others, he uses ribbon, rock, tap, bop, line, modern, and hand jive moves.  His dancers are fun to watch, especially Matthew Ryan Thompson and Ben Donahoo, as the two cross dressing museS. Thompson, who is making a career of playing fey, is a total hoot, as well as being a talented dancer.

Amiee Collier (Melpomene), as the wicked sister and Leslie Andrews (Calliope) as her co-conspirator, are delightful.

Handsome Sam Wolf (Sonny Malone) is physically right for the role, has a pleasant singing voice, but needed more dynamism to pull off the leading man role. Kathleen Rooney (Clio/Kira), as with Wolf, looks the role, but her Australian accent often sounds more like New Joisey and her voice sometimes gets a little shrill. She gets lost in her voluminous untamed blonde wig. Her rendition of Magic is nicely done. Wolf and Rooney's Whenever You're Away From Me is well sung. 

Greg Violand, who portrays Danny Maguire (a business man who was entranced by Clio, many years ago), and is double cast as Zeus, has the best singing voice in The cast. The muses (Leslie Andrews, Maggie Stahl, Kathleen Ferrini) sing, pose, and dance well. 

Trad Burns has transformed the Beck stage into a Greek temple, complete with lots of white pillars, which change colors through creative lighting. Alison Garrigan uses traditional Roman togas, while dressing Sonny (Sam Wolf) in 70s inspired skin tight short shorts and funky tank tops. Larry Goodpaster rocks the house with his musical arrangements.

CAPSULE JUDGEMENT: If you are in the mood for total silliness, want to hear some well sung classical modern songs, and desire to see some excellent dancing, XANADU is for you. The "Magic" may "Suddenly" take you to "Xanadu," allowing you to be "Suspended in Time," so, "Don't Walk Away" from seeing this show at Beck.

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From This Author Roy Berko

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