It’s not…that bad.
I find myself blushing as I write this, but it’s true. I saw Xananduon Broadway, and I actually…kind of enjoyed it.
Of all the films to adapt to the stage,Xanandu was an unlikely choice, and the news that it was coming to Broadway caused many raised eyebrows and much questioning of the producer’s mental health. The film was a notorious flop and is credited with ruining Olivia Newton John’s acting career. So why adapt it into a play?
The answer? It’s fun. The high energy and even higher spirited production currently playing at the Helen Hayes Theatre is a quirky, cute performance that inspires so much laughter that the flaws of the show are almost overlooked.
Xanadu tells the story of Sonny, a frustrated struggling artist in Venice Beach, who is visited by the muse Klio, who inspres him to open a roller disco. In the process of doing so, Klio and Sonny fall in love, a clause that is strictly forbidden in Mount Olympus. They also encounter an elderly man who might have known Klio in his pas, as well as Zues, a Cyclops and two mean-spirited goddesses who are jealous of Klio and determined to make whatever mischief they can.
The plot, loosely adapted from the movie, is peppered with songs that seem more intended to produce laughter than enhance the plot, but the cast performs them with so much enthusiasim and energy that is impossible to not join them on this wacky, weird ride. Klio, played by Kerry Butler, is given a blithe, infectous spirit along with a surprising edge, propelled by tongue in cheek references to Olivia Newton John’s perforance in the movie. (When discussing how she will go in disguise, she states with wide-eyed inspiration, “I shall sport an Australian accent!”) Sonny, her inspiration and love interest, is played with a dim-witted charm by Cheyenne Jackson, who puts a heroic effort into looking surprisingly good in very short shorts.
Joining them as Danny Maguire, the elderly millionaire who owns the roller disco, is the genteel, patrician Tony Roberts, who brings a suave sophistication to the stage. He is able to demonstrate his mainly underused talent in the number, “Whenever You’re Away From Me,” an old-fashioned swing-style song that is one of the highlights of the show. Two other standouts in the supporting cast are Mary Testa and Jackie Hoffman, as Calliope and Medusa, who are obviously enjoying themselves entirely too much in their duet, “Evil Woman,” in which they create a plot to destroy Klio.
The show attempts to maintain a balance between the two driving forces – making fun of the movie it is adapted from and actually telling its story – and at times that balance is distrupted. (When Klio is discussing the conflicted emotions of attempting to create art, she states, “It gives me great feelings of Andrew Lloyd Webber”). Audience members who have not seen the filmXanadumay be confused or even annoyed at these moments.
According to the muses, the gift of Xanandu is so grand that no one knows what it is. While this show is not grand, nor is it a great piece of theatre, but it sure is fun, and it seems to have surprising potential for longevity. Anyone sensing the next Mama Mia?