BWW Review: XANADU Does at the Pittsburgh CLO Cabaret
Take a trip back to the 80s, where Australian accents abounded in California and Greek muses littered the earth; where short shorts and cross dressing were the norm; and where Sonny Malone was inspired to create the greatest roller disco since antiquity.
As a concept, Xanadu sounds like nothing more than a questionably sound movie pitch for a second-hand production studio, and in many ways, it was just that before it hit Broadway. Xanadu, or as Patricia Ward Kelly once told me, Xanadon't was a 1980 movie starring her husband and Pittsburgh native Gene Kelly and singing sensation Olivia Newton-John. Songs from the movie blasted on the radio and eventually found their way into the Broadway show two decades later. These familiar tunes made the night even that much more enjoyable.
With the CLO's mounting of Xanadu, comes usual challenges and constraints. For example, the cast, originally dozens on Broadway was shrunk to a mere five performers for the Cabaret Theater's stage. Having to double or triple up on roles, the cast moves in unison - the most synchronized of any CLO show I have ever seen and perhaps the most hilariously performed show that has ever graced its stage.
To begin, the entire theatre is transformed into a roller disco, complete with a ramp from stage to floor and neon wooden half walls around the perimeter, like a roller rink would have. The small orchestra is elevated on a platform stage left and connecting them to the other side of the stage are four uniform archways that bring the Grecian style to the roller rink.
Kira (OLIVIA VADNAIS) and her two sister muses Melpomene (DREW LEIGH WILLIAMS) and Calliope (Lara Hayhurst) come to the earth from Mount Olympus to inspire the failing and suicidal artist Sonny Malone (REED ALLEN WORTH). Kira takes a special liking to Sonny, sort of making him her new project, and she convinces him to purchase a building to create a roller rink, in the name of art. Danny Maguire (Tim Brady), a screaming hot head real estate tycoon, owns the building and needs some extra convincing, giving Sonny till the end of the day to revitalize the old place.
The show is undoubtedly over the top, ridiculously silly, and exceptionally hysterical. It's tagline "Hilarity on Wheels" fits the bill and continues from the start of the show to the end. Cast member Tim Brady, for example, showcases his professional business demeanor in one scene and is a cross-dressing, harmonizing muse in another. He balances his roles perfectly, and shows off a dance move or two in the process.
Ms. Vadnais, as the female lead, twists her tongue often, swapping from Midwestern to Australian to Southern accents at various points in the show. She also blends perfectly with her sister muses, and forbidden love Sonny, who hits his own pop rock high notes while falling under Kira's "Magic."
Ms. Williams and Ms. Hayhurst are laugh-out-loud entertainers. As the muse of tragedy, Ms. Williams belts "Evil Woman" and will send shivers down your spine. Her snippy demeanor contrasts that of her previous CLO Cabaret role, Rhetta, in Pump Boy and Dinettes. And as if there wasn't already enough comedy in the show, Ms Hayhurst's ditz and persona provides pure delight to compliment each character.
For MGM, the movie might have been a flop, but for the CLO, the musical is a great, light-hearted piece of theatre that transcends decades, nay, cultures, and is a shining example for cabaret theaters "All Over the World."
To see or not to see score: 7/9; Recommended Show
Photo Credit: Matt Polk