BWW Review: Arizona Broadway Theatre Goes To Camp-y With XANADU ~ A-musing!
When you think about the 1980's, what comes to mind is an age of fun, excess, flamboyance, and consumption. Images surface of yuppies in fancy suits, leg warmers, bouffant dos, disco balls and the fluorescent aura of multicolored strobe lights. A new lingo (hot doggers, joanies, and airheads) capture the mood of the times. The message was, Don't worry, Be happy! The excesses of the culture, from giddiness to greed, were captured in such films as Fast Times at Ridgemont High to Wall Street.
One of those cinematic tributes was XANADU, a 1980 flop of a film that somehow, when adapted for Broadway in 2007, became a mild success and actually garnered some prestigious nominations. Its later good fortune may be explained by the songs that inhabit its space. Perhaps, too, because, as a parody of the period, it offered an opportunity to laugh, nostalgically and guiltlessly, at its insanity. Which may explain, in turn, why, for all its hokiness, the musical now on stage at Arizona Broadway Theatre elicits a fair amount of audience appreciation, although more likely by an older generation for whom many of the dated references and lines still fall flat.
As a paean to the value of creative expression, XANADU, directed and choreographed here by Courtney Laine Self, is a friendly and joyful reminder that the human experience is rendered comprehensible through art. When Sonny Malone (Sal Pavia) despairs of his street art, it falls to the Muse Clio (Liz Fallon) to descend from Olympus, deny him his suicide, and revive his hope in possibility ~ that being the resurrection of an old theatre, owned by Danny Maguire (Bill Saunders), named Xanadu, into a roller-skating disco. For the sake of tension, Clio's sisters, Melpomene and Calliope, conspire to defeat Clio's good intentions and impair her divine status.
The work is campy ~ tiers of silliness and scenery-chewing salvaged only by the memorable menu of Lynne & Farrar pop hits and the standout (albeit unsteady-on-their-skates) performances of Fallon and Pavia, joined in their jest by a high-energy and agile ensemble of singers/dancers (Caleb Summers, Danny Durr, Nicholas Kuhn, Erika Wasko, Brian Graziani, and Hannah Clarke Levine).
Certainly, there are times in this production when a turn or two will knock your socks (or leg warmers) off. Such is the case when Fallon and Pavia ~ possessed of beautiful voices that resonate with richness and emotion ~ sing Don't Walk Away and Suspended in Time. For exhilarating moments of comic relief, the dynamic duo of Renée Kathleen Koher (Calliope) and Julie Galorenzo (Melpomene) blast Evil Woman and Strange Magic way beyond the theatre's roof beams. Koher, who last appeared at ABT (and was terrific!) as Morticia in THE ADDAMS FAMILY, demonstrates her tremendous range and versatility in the role of a clearly twisted sister muse.
XANADU keeps skating through September 29th at Arizona Broadway Theatre in Peoria, AZ.
Photo credit to Scott Samplin ~ Top l to r: The Muses, Renée Kathleen Koher and Julie Galorenzo; bottom l to r: Liz Fallon and Sal Pavia
Arizona Broadway Theatre ~ www.azbroadway.org ~ 7701 W Paradise Lane, Peoria AZ ~ 623-776-8400