The 1980 film XANADU never quite lived up to the sum of its parts. It featured a heavy-hitting cast, including the wildly popular Olivia Newton-John, icon Gene Kelly, and music by Jeff Lynne (of Electric Light Orchestra fame) and John Farrar. But its roller disco theme made it seem dated even in the ‘80s, and its Greek muse storyline came off as cheesy. The problem was, it didn’t realize it was camp, it didn’t push the weirdness of the whole thing. The updated stage musical XANADU, the final show of City Theater Company’s 19th season, doesn’t have that problem. It’s pure camp, and it knows it. So, if you’re thinking of skipping it because you didn’t care for the movie or have heard it wasn’t very good (it was, after all, one of the very first Razzie-award winning films), forget everything you know or remember about XANADU — except for the music, of course.
XANADU is set in 1980 Venice, California, where a down-on-his-luck chalk mural artist named Sonn (Billy Kametz) contemplates ending it all when his latest creation comes out less impressive than planned. When he leaves his mediocre mural, nine sister muses (played by five women and two men — yes, that’s only seven) emerge from it. The head Muse, Clio (Jenna Kuerzi) decides to disguise herself as a roller-skating Australian named Kira to help Sonny, who, it turns out, has a dream of opening a roller disco with no capital. Two caveats: “Kira” can’t create anything herself, and she can’t fall in love.
This is where it gets good, because the stage adaptation has taken liberties in satirizing the original plot, and has added a twist: two of the sisters, Melpomene and Calliope (Ann Pinto and Dylan Geringer) have an evil streak, and plot to make sure Kira falls in love with Sonny, ensuring her eternal banishment to the Netherworld. Pinto and Geringer’s scenes steal the show — I don’t know when I’ve laughed harder. Geringer can put the audience into hysterics with just an expression, and she never breaks. She’s a regular in CTC productions, and always a standout, but playing Calliope has put her over the top as one of the best comic actresses in town.
Kuerzi, as goofy Kira with the exaggerated accent, isn’t far behind. She spends more time on roller skates than anyone, though she’s funniest when she’s wearing just one. Kametz is the perfect Sonny, the handsome, dorky street artist. His vocals and comic timing are right on.
Rounding out the cast are Greg Murphy in the Gene Kelly role of Danny; Melissa Leigh Elizabeth Baker, who has a gorgeous voice we didn’t hear enough of, as Euterpe; Ricky Rotandi as Thalia (he also pulled a tap dance number as flashback Danny); Joanna Volpe as Erato, and Tommy Fisher-Klein as Terpsichore. All of the supporting actors had double or triple roles, which, as is not uncommon in CTC productions, was occasionally used as a comic device.
Then, of course, there is the music. The songs were never one of the problems with XANADU, and they’re all here, under the music direction of Joe Trainor, including the Olivia Newton-John hits “Magic” and “Xanadu,” ELO’s “I’m Alive,” “Don’t Walk Away,” and “Suspended in Time,” plus “Evil Woman,” added as a musical number for Melpomene and Calliope. Also added: Newton-John’s ‘70s hit “Have You Never Been Mellow,” for one of the show’s most fun scenes.
As for how they manage to fit a show featuring roller skating in Opera Delaware’s tiny Black Box Theater — that, you’ll have to see for yourself.
Book by Douglas Carter Beane
Music & Lyrics by Jeff Lynne and John Farrar
Directed by Michael Gray
Music Direction by Joe Trainor
April 26 – May 11, 2013
City Theater Company
4 South Poplar Street
Wilmington DE 19801