Wednesday, April 16, 2008
The other night my friend Eddie took me to see Xanadu, the musical adaptation of the notoriously bad Olivia Newton John film. I had been wanting to see the show for a while, and the giddily silly, gay-as-all-get-out play didn't disappoint. Xanadu stars the luscious Cheyenne Jackson as Sonny, a dimwitted artist who's on the verge of suicide when Clio (Kerry Butler), a Grecian muse, arrives in human form as "Kira" and encourages him to pursue his dream. See, what Sonny really wants to do is... open up a roller disco! "How timeless," Clio says breathlessly. But along the way, Clio and Sonny fall for each other (forbidden since Clio can't love a mortal) and tangle with the would-be disco's owner, curmudgeonly old businessman Danny Maguire (Tony Robbins). Maguire eventually warms to their plan, especially when he gets the nagging feeling that he's met (and loved) "Kira" before... Xanadu is a fantastically fun show, filled with energy and exuberance. The creators use all of the film's terrific songs (probably the sole reason anyone even remembered the God-awful film) and adapt the story in a way that's cheekily self aware. There are references to the cultural sterility of the '80s, Andrew Lloyd Webber, and even leg warmers. One of the best jokes is Clio's decision to affect an Australian accent, a wink at the movie's use of an obvious Aussie in a "Grecian" role. (Newton John is pictured above with Jackson.) "They call me Keeeeeeeeraaaaah," Butler says repeatedly, overdoing the accent to hilarious effect. She's terrific, charming and fun, with a fine singing voice and the impressive ability to perform nearly the entire show in roller skates. Ditto Jackson, who's lovably, wonderfully dunder-headed as his character-- and so hot he practically burns the theater down. (If only all strapping male leads were dressed in form fitting tank tops and jean shorts.) He can also belt it out with the best of them, reaching impressive high notes throughout the numerous production numbers. The supporting cast is fine as well, with Mary Testa and Jackie Hoffman stealing the show as Clio's jealous, scheming sisters. (At one point, the hysterical Hoffman literally starts to chew the scenery.) Xanadu also pulls off the neat trick of being both adult and kid-friendly; while Hoffman aptly describes it as "like children's theater for 40-year-old gay people," it has all the spunk and sass of a great Disney movie, and audiences of all ages seem to be responding favorably. (As for lines referencing Jackson's "big hands and big feet," well... what the kiddies don't know won't hurt them.) Xanadu is a guilty pleasure, but it's one with heart and humor, and entertains fabulously. "Huzzah, sisters!"