Strap on your skates because Slow Burn Theatre Co.’s production of the Broadway hit “Xanadu” is rolling into the Broward Center’s Abdo New River Room this weekend.
The 2007 musical comedy is an adaptation of the 1980 film of the same name, which was, according to Wikipedia, in turn, inspired by the 1947 Rita Hayworth film, “Down to Earth,”a sequel to the 1941 movie, “Here Comes Mr. Jordan,” an adaptation of the play, “Heaven Can Wait”by Harry Segall. The title is a reference to the poem “Kubla Khan, or A Vision in a Dream” by Samuel Taylor Coleridge. Just in case you were wondering, Xanadu is the name of the Chinese province where Khan establishes his pleasure garden in the poem.
And, if you had forgotten, the film, starred Olivia Newton-John and despite a hit soundtrack by Jeff Lynne and John Farrar, was a box office and critical flop that earned six Razzie nominations and a coveted win for the worst director, securing it instantaneous cult fame.
Douglas Carter Beane embraced the inherent camp of the film when penning an updated script for Broadway: Clio (Lindsay Corey), a muse, is sent to Earth to inspire a down-on-his-luck street artist, Sonny Malone (Rick Pena). With the disguise of a new name, roller skates and a ridiculous Australian accent, her demi-god status will remain secret.
Beane manages to weave in a subplot, thanks to another popular film of the period, “Clash of the Titans,” in which Clio’s malevolent sister muses, Melpomene (Sharyn Peoples) and Calliope (Lissa Grossman Comess), curse Clio to fall in love with a mortal and thus incur the wrath of Zeus (Larry Buzzeo).
Since the plot skirts a thinly-veiled metaphor for Broadway, Beane lavishes in sarcastic swipes at the jukebox musicals and film adaptations that would dominate theater marquees for a generation. Even Andrew Lloyd Webber, the titan of the ‘80s theater box office, would fall prey. Let’s just say, next to “Xanadu,” “Wicked” and “The Book of Mormon” are “The Odyssey” and “The Iliad.”
Director/choreographer Patrick Fitzwater also wisely plays up the campiness of the show. With the exception of handsome Pena’s naïve, wide-eyed (and dreamy) Sonny, the rest of the cast present silly caricatures and it works. The curvaceous Peoples and boyish Comess are delicious as the plotting sisters singing “Evil Woman.”
Conor Walton and Elijah Wood bravely cover gender-bending roles as masculine muses—presumptively due to the limitations of cast doubling—with Walton’s bearded chin conjuring images of an ancient Greek Conchita Wurst.
Corey, who spends most of the show in skates deserves kudos for busting Fitzwater’s roller disco moves and, when her mic gave out at a performance at the Crest Theater in Delray Beach last weekend, deftly compensated with a handheld mic never missing a beat.
In addition to portraying Zeus, Larry Buzzeo also portrays Danny Maguire, an aging property developer, who was also inspired by Clio 40 years earlier to build the theater, named Xanadu, that would become Sonny’s roller disco. An excellent character actor, Buzzeo shines in his numbers, especially “Whenever You’re Away from Me,” featuring a nifty tap number by Walton as the young Danny.
“Xanadu” is a fun show packed with nostalgia, especially the tuneful disco score, which includes “Magic,” “Suddenly,” “Don’t Walk Away,” “Have You Never Been Mellow” and, of course, the title song, all performed under the able musical direction of Manny Schvartzman.
Slow Burn Theatre Co.’s production of “Xanadu” will be performed in the Abdo New River Room at the Broward Center in Fort Lauderdale, Thursday, Feb. 23 – Sunday, March 5. Tickets are $45 at BrowardCenter.org.