If you ever wished there were a perfect theatrical equivalent of the frothy beach book, something that didn't require you to think but still kept your mind from turning to cottage cheese, "Xanadu" fills the bill. This is a show in which the goddesses go crazy, Zeus changes his mind, Aphrodite triumphs, and young lovers fall into each other's arms on roller skates. It also doesn't hurt that Olivia Newton-John's canned songs still sound terrific.
Getting a feeling of dï¿½jï¿½ vu here? Movies being made into Broadway shows yet again? Still? Well, to be fair, sometimes they work -- think "Hairspray," "Dirty Rotten Scoundrels" and "Mary Poppins," for example. "Xanadu" sort of works, mostly because the writer of the book, satirist Douglas Carter Beane who wrote the side-splitting "Little Dog Laughed," has a wicked sense of humor.
"Xanadu" offers Big hair; Big voices; Big music; Big return to the 80s; Big campy fun. A "Starlight Express" in togas. For those of you who still worship Olivia but don't remember the story, "Xanadu" is a remake of the Universal movie, complete with Greek columns, as well as onstage audience members, a new trend on Broadway this year.
Setting: Venice Beach, circa 1980. Pathetic sidewalk artist Sonny Malone, with punk hair and roller skates, adorably played this performance by Curtis Holbrook, (albeit no John Travolta) is bemoaning his latest lackluster inspiration when suddenly (Yes, "Suddenly!" Thank God for Olivia) it comes to life a la Mary Poppins chalk drawings (a good idea's a good idea, even if it's ripped off).
The Muses, led by Clio, played by Kerry Butler in the dual role (also as the human being Kira), arrive through Time's trap door to bring art and creativity back to the 80s (just in the nick of time!). Opening with "I'm Alive," the Muse Sisters declare their mission, and focus on Sonny's magnificent dream of opening a roller disco replete with (what else?) disco balls and "hustle" beats.
Hmmm, how to perform the Herculean task of getting this earthly creature out of his funk and into the glorious world of dance clubs with pizzazz? Enter Danny Maguire, looking a lot like the indefatigable Tony Roberts in the role of the one-time would-be artist who sold out for things like money and family years ago, after a brief encounter with (could it be?) a lovely Muse.
Man, that Clio gets around every generation or so. So, he has a theater just sitting there for the taking, provided Sonny and Kira can spruce it up overnight before the demolition team takes over. Well, with a Muse like Clio, how can one lose?
But there's a fly in the Olympian ointment. The hilarious older Muse Sisters, played by Mary Testa and Jackie Hoffman -- passed over by Father Zeus in favor of the young blonde thing -- are doing their own things, and you can be sure they're not going to help Clio's cause.
Which Muse will prevail? Will Clio be allowed to love her mortal even though Papa Zeus has issues with this? Will Danny Maguire go back to his first love -- theater? Will Sonny Malone get off his skates and get this venture going? Will we all survive the over-amplified 80s music while they work this all out?
Of course we will. . . and they will too. Remember, Zeus is pulling the strings so everyone gets to live happily for the next few millennia. Silly, but the audience made no value judgments. They cheered and laughed; the theater was packed; and there's a "Xanadu" wonder in us all. If you need a good excuse to spend $100-plus for a ticket, think of "Xanadu" as one of those irresistible guilty pleasures. You'll have a grand time.
Barbara Mehlman and Geri Manus
CHARLES ISHERWOOD of THE NEW YORK TIMES: ï¿½Can a musical be simultaneously indefensible and irresistible? Why, yes it can. Witness 'Xanadu,' the outlandishly enjoyable stage spoof of the outrageously bad movie from 1980"
JOE DZIEMIANOWICZ of NEW YORK DAILY NEWS: "90 minutes of souped-up silliness and broad comedy" & "Kerry Butler is simply out of this world as Kira" & "Delightfully inspired."
CLIVE BARNES of THe NEW YORK POST: "For a jukebox musical, the music is certainly not awful, simply nostalgic-generic. If you are of a certain age, you will remember that you had forgotten it and prepare to forget it again. That, I suppose, is the only goodish news of an absolutely ghastly show."
MICHAEL SOMMERS of STAR-LEDGER: "'Xanadu' here proves to be a goofy glitterball of a musical" & "Sure, 'Xanadu' makes 'Mamma Mia' look like Shakespeare, but there's strange magic in such madness.
LINDA WINER of NEWSDAY: "A grand little piece of smart dumb fun."
ROBERT FELDBERG of THE RECORD: "'Xanadu' tries to deflect the curse of its dumbness by letting the audience know that it realizes it's dumb ï¿½ and isn't that fun! Unfortunately, stupid is as stupid does. And consciously being addlebrained isn't much better than achieving that condition by accident."
ERIC GRODE of the NEW YORK SUN: "A number of seasoned Broadway pros simultaneously mock, embrace, deconstruct, and tart up with surprisingly agreeable flair the excruciating 1980 roller-disco movie of the same name."
MICHAEL KUCHWARA of ASSOCIATED PRESS: "'Xanadu,' the jaw-droppingly awful 1980 film... has been turned into a fast, funny little stage musical. Quite a transformation... does a bang-up job at entertainment."
FRANK SCHECK of THE HOLLYWOOD REPORTER: "This slipshod enterprise,.. belongs more in a fringe festival than on Broadway. Despite running a mere 90 minutes, it quickly proves wearisome in its one-note camp attitude."
DAVID ROONEY of VARIETY: "what looked on paper to be one-note sketch fodder turns out to be an unexpectedly sustained and refreshingly unassuming crowd-pleaser."
External links to full reviews from newspapers