What is Xanadu? Some may remember it from the first lines of a Samuel Taylor Coleridge poem: “In Xanadu did Kubla Khan his stately pleasure dome decree.” Others may recall it as the name of Citizen Kane’s palatial home in the celebrated movie. But you won’t learn its “real” meaning until near the end of XANADU: THE MUSICAL, now on stage at Haddon Township’s Ritz Theatre. This comedy-fantasy is based on the 1980 movie starring Olivia Newton-John and Gene Kelly, but differs from it in some ways. The basic plot is the same: one of the nine muses, Greek demigoddesses who represent arts and sciences, descends from Mount Olympus to Venice Beach, California to inspire a struggling young artist who dreams of—what else?—fortune and fame.
As Sonny Malone (John Baccaro) contemplates an old, empty auditorium and a mural of the nine muses, a beautiful girl (Jaclyn K. Dixon) calling herself Kira appears on roller skates and suggests that he turn the auditorium into a roller disco. The two are obviously attracted to each other, but Kira (actually Clio, muse of history) is forbidden to love a mortal. Sonny finds the name of the building’s owner on a sign and goes to see him. He is Danny Maguire, played by Ritz veteran Michael (“Mikey”) Bracken. Danny is a former big band star turned construction mogul. He reveals that he built the auditorium, but it was never used and he is about to tear it down. He once had a muse of his own (guess who?) but lost her. Further complications are provided by Melpomene, muse of tragedy (Jennifer Knackstedt), and her sidekick Calliope, muse of heroic poetry (Lauren Parsons), who try to sabotage Kira’s efforts. However, since XANADU is a comedy-fantasy, it probably won’t spoil anything to say that all ends well, in a dazzling finale with the entire cast on roller skates.
Speaking of the entire cast, it was a challenge to director Al Fuchs to encourage them to add roller skating to their acting, singing and dancing talents, but, he says, “with a lot of practice and patience” all performed well and were choreographed according to their abilities. They trained at the Cherry Hill Skating Center under a superb staff including Kayla Rodriguez, a 14-time National Champion.
Skating, however, is not the only attraction. Dixon, as Kira, wins audience hearts with her fine singing voice and appealing performance. The same can be said of Baccaro as Sonny. Everyone loved Bracken as the hard-surfaced but soft-hearted Danny. He also plays Zeus, the king of the gods. And let us not forget the villainesses, played with zest by Knackstedt and Parsons. The costumes and set are spectacular and the lighting effects, especially in the finale, are breathtaking. Add to all this some truly hilarious comic moments and you have the perfect summertime show for the entire family.
XANADU: THE MUSICAL
Book by Douglas Carter Beane
Music and Lyrics by Jeff Lynn and John Farrar
Directed by Al Fuchs
July 11-Augustt 10, 2013
Ritz Theatre Company
915 White Horse Pike
Haddon Township, NJ 08137