BWW Review: XANADU: THE MUSICAL is Zany Fun at Nebraska Wesleyan University Theatre
XANADU: THE MUSICAL has rolled onto the stage at Nebraska Wesleyan University's McDonald Theatre. For those of you who remember Olivia Newton John and Gene Kelly in the 1980 movie version, this isn't it. This is a poke at the box office flop that skated Newton John's success with GREASE back on its heels. The film did receive award nominations...six Razzies to be exact...and won the dubious honor of worst director. It has since became a cult classic. Because who doesn't love 80's music, big hair, and leg warmers?
XANADU, the musical parody based on the Universal Pictures film, was adapted for stage by Douglas Carter Beane who received a Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Book of a Musical in 2008. Music and Lyrics by Jeff Lynne and John Farrar were not nominees; however, the soundtrack for the film was a hit, and many of the songs still receive some play today, such as "Magic" and "Have You Never Been Mellow" made popular by Newton John and "Evil Woman" by Electric Light Orchestra (ELO).
So, what is "Xanadu?" Xanadu is a name taken from the summer capital of Kublai Khan's Yuan Dynasty in China. Samuel Taylor Coleridge refers to the city in his poem entitled Kubla Khan which is mentioned in the film. For this musical spoof, "Xanadu" is the name of a potential nightclub where all arts will be shared: everything from roller skating to sidewalk chalk to dance. The Greek god Zeus explains Xanadu as "true love and the ability to create and share art"- a gift so grand that none of us truly knows what it is.
Aly Faber stars as the muse Clio, who renames herself Kira and gives herself an Australian accent (a nod to Newton John.) Kira has been chosen by Zeus as Leader of the Muses, much to the chagrin of her older sisters Melpomene (Katie Ploetz) and Calliope (Jessice Moehlman). Kira leads her sisters (two of whom are played by men: Jimmy Kohlmann and Rico Santana) to Venice Beach, California to inspire sidewalk chalk artist Sonny Malone (James Booker III) whose imagination has stalled. Well aware that it is forbidden for Greek muses to create art themselves or to fall in love with a mortal, Clio's two jealous sisters trick Kira into falling for Sonny.
Sonny with Kira's help locates an abandoned building with a dilapidated marquee that reads "Xanadu." They consider this a "sign," (which indicates the type of absurd humor at play in this script) and they request that the owner, former big band musician Danny Maguire (Jonathan Algeroy) hand the place over to them. Danny gives in when he notices a resemblance of Kira to his muse of forty years ago called Kitty. He negotiates a deal giving them 25% of the profits if they can fix up the place by sunset. Sonny is optimistic, never being one to think too deeply about anything, but Melpomene and Calliope connive to thwart his plans.
If you want to spend 90 minutes with good music, bad rollerskating, and silly fun, this is for you. Already a fan of James Booker III through previous NWU productions, I enjoyed hearing his voice once again. His duet with Faber in "Suddenly" is blissful. Faber is impossibly charming on stage. Her exaggerated comical performance is sharpened because it is diametrically opposed to her innocent appearance. She is sweetly funny. Algeroy puts his tap shoes to good use and shows us he can dance as well as sing. Ploetz and Moehlman delight the audience with their rousing rendition of "Evil Woman." The trio of sisters, Faber, Lauren Laas, and Hope Jimenez surprise with lovely harmony in an Andrews Sisters-type number which is mashed with an 80's rock band sound of Santana, Kohlmann, and Booker.
There are plenty of puns, pulled faces, and preposterousness to keep the laughs coming. Those in attendance certainly seemed to enjoy themselves. A shout out to Guest Artist Set Designer Samantha Transleau for her colorful backdrop painting. Congratulations to Director Jay Scott Chipman and Musical Director Julie Heaton, Choreographers Melissa Rosenberger and Rueben Del Valle, Jr., along with the entire cast and crew for providing a sunny California escape from a wintry Nebraska afternoon.
Shows run Feb 10 at 2:00 pm and Feb 14-16 at 7:30 pm.