BWW Reviews: Theatre Under the Stars' Humphreys School of Musical Theatre's XANADU Shows Off Talented Youths

Theatre Under the Stars' (TUTS) Humphreys School of Musical Theatre (HSMT) introduced Houston, Texas to the 2007 stage musical adaptation of XANADU this weekend. The musical film Xanadu opened to mixed-to-negative reviews and audience responses in 1980, but over the interceding years has gained a cult following. However, from its release, the film's soundtrack has been a commercial success. It contains five Top 20 singles and was certified Double Platinum in the US. The musical adaption retains Electric Light Orchestra's original pop songs written for the film, featuring music and lyrics by Jeff Lynne and John Farrar. Douglas Carter Beane stepped in to write the book for the musical, and added a pair of "evil" muses as a plot twist. For the musical, the creative team pieced together a tacky, self-indulgent, and self-referential one act that despite a talented cast is uninteresting and bland.

Douglas Carter Beane's weak book is the production's largest obstacle. Creating such favorites as To Wong Foo, Thanks for Everything! Julie Newmar, THE LITTLE DOG LAUGHED, THE NANCE, and rewriting the book for the new adaption of Rodgers and Hammerstein's CINDERELLA, I just couldn't fathom why this book was so dull and felt so uninspired. The pervasive tongue-in-cheek humor wears thin quickly, making all the references to the wackiness of the 80s and the lack of originality and inspiration in the plethora of jukebox musicals and musicals based on movies groan worthy by the show's midpoint. Douglas Carter Beane sums up his show perfectly when he has Calliope exclaim, "This is like children's theatre for 40 year old gay people!" XANADU has no more depth than your stereotypical children's theatre show and offers little for audiences who aren't fans of the film or Olivia Newton John.

Where this production triumphs is its cast. TUTS' HSMT is training some of the best young talent in the city and even the nation. This is instantly evident as the cast takes the stage and breathes as much life as they can into their stale characters. As Kira/Clio, Emma Center is perky and cute. Following in the footsteps of Olivia Newton John, her voice is not as strong as I would have liked, but she croons sweetly and earnestly. As Sonny, Sean Hardin is full of energy. His voice is in great shape, making "Don't Walk Away" on the best moments in the production. Maddie Baillio and Maddie Dennison expertly play the evil muses Melpomene and Calliope. These charming and charismatic young ladies steal the show by making the audience explode with laughter time and time again. Additionally, their rendition of "Evil Woman" is one of the, if not the, best moments of the entire production. Also, as Danny McGuire, Michael Tapley has fun with the light-hearted almost villainous role. Furthermore, the rest of the talented youths in the cast dance, sing, and skate with energy, filling the stage with life during the vivacious production numbers "Dancin'," "All Over the World," and "Xanadu."

Scenic Design by Claire "Jac" Jones looks like it was plucked out of Key West, Florida. The vibrantly colored columns and floors take audiences back to the 80s without even trying. The popping yellow, splashy turquoise, and warm pink are well chosen and utilized pristinely on the set. Moreover, the flying Pegasus and Xanadu film poster set pieces were well-received and witty touches.

There is no denying that the musical XANADU has its problems. The repetitiveness of the jokes in the book makes the 75-minute production feel like it runs for almost 2 hours. The score has standout moments, but in the end it's not all that memorable. Despite this, the cast of TUTS' HSMT's XANADU gives the performance everything they can muster. Their infectious talent and liveliness pours off the stage and keeps the audience entertained despite the show's weaker parts.

XANADU, produced by Theatre Under the Stars' Humphreys School of Musical Theatre, plays two final performances today in the Zilkha Hall at the Hobby Center for the Performing Arts, 800 Bagby Street, Houston, 77002. Performances are today at 1:30pm and 7:30pm. For more information and tickets, please visit or call (713) 558-8887.

Photos courtesy of Theatre Under the Stars.

Emma Center as Kira/Clio with Muses.

Emma Center as Kira/Clio and Sean Hardin as Sonny.

Theatre Under the Stars' Humphreys School of Musical Theatre Cast of XANADU.

Emma Center as Kira/Clio and Sam Linda as Hermes.

Sean Hardin as Sonny, Emma Center as Kira/Clio, and Matthew Smith.

Theatre Under the Stars' Humphreys School of Musical Theatre Cast of XANADU.

Related Articles View More Houston Stories   Shows

From This Author David Clarke

Before you go...

Like Us On Facebook
Follow Us On Twitter
Follow Us On Instagram instagram