(Photo credit: Matthew Saville)
Written by Daniella Litvak
Xanadu began life as a film. The film is remembered for a few things. It was a notorious flop – to the point of inspiring the Razzies. The soundtrack was a worldwide smash. The film starred Olivia Newton-John and Gene Kelly, who turned in good performances in spite of everything, and it was Gene Kelly’s final film role. In the 2000s, Xanadu was adapted into a successful Broadway musical and scored several Tony nominations. Now it is closing out the Laguna Playhouse’s historic 100th anniversary season.
Once upon a time, in 1980 Los Angeles, a struggling artist named Sonny Malone (Dorian Quinn). Clio (Kristen Daniels), leader of the Greek Muses, takes pity on this poor mortal. She disguises herself as Kira – a leg-warmer-wearing roller skater from Australia – and inspires Sonny to build the “apex of arts” – a roller disco. Of course, this dream won’t come true unless Clio and Sonny melt the heart of cantankerous real estate mogul Danny Maguire (Jonathan Van Dyke) and stay two steps ahead of the schemes from Clio’s jealous sisters, Melpomene (Judy Mina-Ballard) and Calliope (Michelle Bendetti).
Xanadu knows what it is. It’s not a tightly plotted play with finely drawn characters. It’s a campy musical that gleefully prioritizes glitter, music, and roller skating. What it lacks in substance, it makes up with charm, spectacle, and zingers.
Jeff Lynne of Electric Light Orchestra and Traveling Wilburys fame and John Farrar, who wrote and produced several number-one hit singles, wrote the music and lyrics for Xanadu. Unsurprisingly, the songs are rollicking crowd pleasers. You may already be familiar with many of the songs from hearing them on the radio or Dance Dance Revolution.
My favorite musical numbers were “Whenever You’re Away From Me” and “Dancin’.” “Whenever You’re Away From Me” explores Danny’s backstory, so it’s in the style of a 1940s big band number. (Danny’s backstory upstages the current storyline, and I wish the show was centered around a young Danny instead). “Dancin’” is about Sonny and Danny negotiating a deal to use one of Danny’s properties to open the roller disco. It mashes up 40s and 70s/80s music, making it the most creative number of the show.
Like Olivia Newton-John and Gene Kelly before them, the standouts in the show are Kristen Daniels as Clio/Kira and Jonathan Van Dyke as Danny. Alec Mittenthal also deserves recognition for playing Young Danny. His tap dancing was incredible. Everyone deserves kudos for their roller skating skills. Roller skating looks far more perilous when it is being done on stage.
With such an outlandish premise, the costumes have to be equally high-volume. Xanadu does not disappoint in that regard. The costumes are colorful, loud, and sparkly. Each era depicted in the show – the 70s/80s, the 40s, and ancient Greece – were on point as to style. The costumes for Centaur, Cyclops, Medusa, and what everyone wore for the finale were especially memorable.
If you are looking for lighthearted, fun, and catchy songs, you should swing by the Laguna Playhouse for Xanadu.
August 3 – 21, 2022